The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

Rejected Writing Prompts.

The moisturizer didn’t start working until several applications later.


Why aren’t amino acids called “amateur teins”?


It wasn’t apropos—it was the propos.


Things used to turn on a dime. With inflation they turn on a dollar.


Nothing had changed. So had everything.


How much power does it take for your phone to warn you the battery is low?


Creaky door in a full house on a summer afternoon—no big deal.

Creaky door in an empty house in the middle of the night in late fall or early winter—utterly terrifying.

Creaky door in an empty house in the middle of the night in summer—hey, might as well check it out, it’s not like you have to get dressed or anything.


Opening dialogue:

“How can we get people to come to the event?”

“I could give out samples of my wine cake.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

“Oh, it’s not what it sounds like. It’s soaked in vodka!”


The dessert known as a Baked Alaska in the United States is called a Norwegian Omelet in France.


One-hundred and eighty minutes later we realized it had been three hours.


Do cowboys ever pretend they’re 7-year olds?


Was “Bingo” the name of the dog or the farmer?


Did telegram messengers use stationery bikes?


I’ve never run a Marathon but one summer I did work as a clerk at one of their gas stations.


You don’t meet a lot of women with “Jr.” after their name.


We chose the Czech airport for reasons that were purely Prague-matic.


My life was influenced by the Greek philosopher Mediocrites.


Why is there lemonade but no grapefruitade, kumquatade, or banananade?


Opening dialogue:

“They really treat you like family at this restaurant!”

“Here’s your bill, and as soon as you’re done you can start washing the dishes.”


In the end the salmon was a red herring.


Ray Bradbury said, “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” Prove him wrong.

Summer Time.

So I found an Argiope aurantia in the yard and if you don’t know what that is you’re probably thinking I should hire whoever handles that sort of thing to get rid of it and if you do know what it is you’re almost certainly thinking I should hire whoever handles that sort of thing to get rid of it because you know it’s a great big spider. She wasn’t that big, though—it’s still early in the season, but it did remind me of the time when I was ten and found a fully grown one under the deck of my parents’ house. They’re quite beautiful with shiny black, white, yellow, and green bodies, and they build big circular webs with zigzag patterns. No one’s sure why they weave such obvious patterns into their webs—maybe it’s to warn birds away, or it’s for camouflage, or for some other reason.  They sit in the middle of their webs patiently waiting.

I’d visit the one under the deck three or four times a day sometimes and bring it prey which I know sounds pretty sadistic of me. At least I felt a little bit of guilt but it was also fascinating to watch. I’d catch a katydid, holding it by its leafy wings, and throw it into the web. The spider would rush over, bite the katydid once, injecting a toxic cocktail, and then start wrapping it. Some spiders wrap their prey in a single thread but an Argiope aurantia activates all its spinnerets at once producing a skein of silk that turns its catch into a mummy in seconds. Then it leaves its prey to sit and cook for a while because spiders invented ceviche long before humans did.

Sometimes when I came back later I’d find her sucking the juices from her wrapped meal. Then she’d pluck it loose from the web and let it drop to the ground. By nighttime the web would be gone. They eat part of their webs before going to sleep, recycling the protein, and producing a fresh, neat web the next day.

I spent the summer watching her grow bigger and bigger, but I tried not to get too attached. Even then I knew enough about biology to know that most spiders grow fast and put everything into producing children they won’t live to see. It’s sad but also beautiful.

I knew she was a she because the males are smaller and less distinctive. The males build a web near a female’s when it’s time to mate. I never did see her partner but one must have come around. By late August I could tell she was slowing down. She sometimes ignored the grasshoppers I threw into her web, conserving her energy while her internal organs slowly turned into eggs. The morning I found her in the upper part of her web next to what looked like a small mottled brown balloon I knew it was time. Summer at that age lasted forever and was also over in a blink.

Her children, if they survived the winter, had a tough time ahead of them, which is one of the sad facts of a spider’s life. They lay a thousand eggs or more as insurance because the world is a harsh place. Most won’t make it to adulthood.

The one I found in the garden earlier this week has been gone for a couple of days now. Her web is still there but it’s tattered. It’s unlikely she’s moved somewhere else. She picked a well-protected place. It just wasn’t protected enough, and there’s a long summer ahead of me.

Let It Commence.

Commencement Address, Catalpa University, May 2021

Class of 2021, congratulations. You’ve made it through significant challenges and unforeseeable challenges which no other graduating class in history has ever had to face. Your struggles and accomplishments are utterly unique. Just like every other graduating class in history. What you’ve been through is the sort of thing that would make great material for a college application essay if you weren’t already graduating from college.

Congratulations on making it here.  Most of you, having made it here as freshmen, were statistically unlikely to graduate. Or statistically likely. Or maybe it could have gone either way. I really don’t know. I haven’t looked at the numbers. Anyway congratulations on being a statistic, but in a good way, and not like somebody who’s been struck by lightning three times which, I think, is pretty statistically unlikely, but also makes you statistically very likely to be the sort of person people move away from at parties.

As I look over and slightly to the left of your faces I, having once been where you are now know exactly what you’re thinking. How long am I going to talk before you can get your diploma and get out of here? Someday, maybe very soon, you’ll be wishing you could have dragged this out for a lot longer. But bear with me. Be patient. I promise to only speak as long as I’m contractually obligated to do so, and sometimes putting in the absolute least amount of effort can lead to great success. College taught me that. Specifically when I I aced a test on statistics.

I would kill time up here by reading the phone book but they don’t have those anymore, and it’s a shame. Tough guys used to demonstrate their strength by tearing phone books in half. Believe me, you don’t have to be that tough to tear a laptop in half. You just have to be fast enough to run away from the guy it belonged to.

You know what you never hear about? Someone being bitten by a shark while mountain climbing. You know what you also never hear about? Someone being mauled by bear while they were at the beach. That’s something you can think about if you can’t think of anything else.

Because you’re here you’ve passed many tests. Those of you who are finally here after five or six years of trying also failed many tests. Once you leave here you’ll face many more tests. With luck, determination, and hard work you’ll pass most of those tests. However in spite of luck, determination, and hard work you’ll also fail many tests. Don’t worry about it. You won’t be graded on most of them.

It’s a shame phone books are no longer around. Once some friends and I called for a pizza. We didn’t know the number for the place so we looked it up in the phone book. There were two listed. We called the first one and ordered a pizza and then we had to go pick it up so we wrote down the address. But we wrote down the wrong address and when we got there they didn’t have any record of our order. We ended up getting two pizzas.

You’ve had to answer many questions as part of your education, but as you’ve already learned, life is full of questions, many of which don’t have clear answers. What will your career ultimately be? What challenges will you face going forward? Why do people make videos of themselves watching videos? Does anyone really know where Suriname is? Why are there no single-A batteries?

These are the kinds of questions you can use to fill up space if you’re trying to fulfill an obligation to take up a certain amount of time, but I don’t recommend using any of them to pad out a resume, but if you’re ever in a position to do so I hope you’ll stick some of them into a job application. Hire anyone who says they don’t understand the question. Hire anyone who has a funny answer. Hire people with eyepatches because you know they’ve got a story to tell.

 Thank you for your time and patience, and and for falling asleep and letting your heads droop forward so I could see the cool decorations on your mortarboards. I’d like to stay longer but I’m pretty sure I see a guy who wants to talk to me about his laptop.



Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about routines, or at least trying to because my brain has pretty much turned to cabbage with all the days running together. It’s not just this year; it seems like it’s every year, around this same time, that the days start to flow one into another without much distinction. Maybe it’s still a holdover from childhood when the first few days of summer were a kind of null space where I had to create new routines to fill where school used to take up the gaps. Or maybe it’s the heat. The days melt together like the box of crayons I left in the back of the car the last day of second grade.

I’ve noticed that a lot of successful people have routines. aybe having a routine is one of the habits of successful people. Maybe it’s just the routine and all the other habits they have just inhabit it, although I guess technically a habit and a routine are pretty much the same thing. The only difference is you can inhabit a home but you don’t inroutine it no matter how regularly you go in and out, but that’s another story.

A specific example I know is Oliver Sacks, who used to have all his outfits for the week put together and hanging in his closet, and also all his meals mostly prepped and ready and stored in containers so he didn’t have to think about what he’d wear or what he’d eat and could spend his time thinking about the nature of consciousness or how cool it was to be played by Robin Williams in that movie that was sort of but not really about him.

Having an established routine can be mentally liberating, but ironically I think for a routine to be effective it has to be used consciously, and that’s where I’ve been failing. I have a routine: I get up in the morning, I take the dogs out, I help my wife feed them, I take a shower, I have coffee and spend ten minutes thinking about what to have for breakfast, then I go to work. It’s all pretty mundane which might be why most days I can’t tell if it’s Mundane or Thursdane.

There’s a fine line between a routine and a rut. One’s a path already established that you stick to because it’s easy; the other is a path you make yourself because you dig it. How I got this far in life without realizing that is a mystery but beating myself up for things I could have, maybe should have, done sooner is one habit I hope to break and hopefully replace with better ones. Maybe I can start by getting that box of crayons out of the back seat of the car.

As You Sow So Shall You Reap.

Source: Twitter user Lesego Semenya (@LesDaChef)

In the beginning there was wild mustard and it was good. It was pretty tasty and the seeds were good for spicing up food, especially sausage which had just been invented. It was nutritious and everyone was fine with this plant as it was.

Then it was cultivated and the cultivation led to collard greens. And this was okay too. Collard greens were also nutritious and while some didn’t like them most people were just fine with them.

Then more cultivation led to cabbage. Some people didn’t like cabbage but most did. Cabbage was useful. You could boil it or wrap other foods up in the leaves. Cabbage rolls and coffee got a lot of people going in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or whenever. It was good for making cole slaw. It was also good for serving with corned beef, which was called that even though it had no corn in it. Corn hadn’t been invented yet.

Then came brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts were basically tiny cabbages that grew on a stem. No one could explain why this was necessary, but the prevailing belief was that it was because Belgium was annoyed with the Netherlands for also being called Holland and for having people known as the Dutch, which is too many names for such a small country. Brussels sprouts were divisive. People either really hated them or were moderately okay with them. They were pretty good roasted and were deemed acceptable when drenched with cheddar cheese, which had just been invented.

Somewhere in here kohlrabi came along. No one was sure what to do with kohlrabi or how to eat it or if it should be cooked or served raw. Finally everyone just decided that the best thing was to give it a weird name and move on.

Then came broccoli. People were okay with broccoli. It was like eating tiny trees, and everyone got a kick out of that. It didn’t have a lot of flavor in spite of being a descendant of wild mustard but people could at least claim they were having something healthy at office parties by eating broccoli smothered in ranch dressing, which had just been invented.

Shortly after broccoli cauliflower came along. No one was sure why and half the people wanted to call it a flower and half the people wanted to call it an amniotic membrane. No one was sure what to do with cauliflower but since it was related to broccoli it was put on the vegetable trays with ranch dressing. Cauliflower could also be boiled and mashed into a paste so that people would think they were getting a nice big serving of potatoes until they ate it and it just tasted like wet cardboard.

And then there was kale. No one was sure where kale came from but everyone agreed that it should go back. In spite of efforts to make it palatable by turning it into chips or mixing it with bacon, which some falsely tried to claim had been invented for just that purpose, no one liked kale. Cheese ran in terror from it.

Kale would have been the black sheep of the brassica family but not even sheep would eat it. Regardless of when it had been invented it was the dead end of a once proud lineage, a cultivar that only existed because some cabbage grower somewhere hadn’t stopped when they were a head.


Fishing For Ideas.

Fishing Lure Or Early 20th Century Dance Craze?

  1. Lindy Hop
  2. Bagley Balsa B
  3. Balboa
  4. Lunker Lure Buzzbait
  5. Heddon Torpedo
  6. Collegiate Shag
  7. Charleston
  8. Jitterbug*
  9. Hula Grub
  10. Foxtrot
  11. Gitzit
  12. Shimmy
  13. Blue Fox Foxee Jig
  14. Panther Martin
  15. Toddle
  16. Big Apple
  17. Rooster Tail
  18. Turkey Trot
  19. Castle Walk
  20. Gibbs Pencil Popper
  21. Spoonplug
  22. Quadrille
  23. Mepps Aglia
  24. Maxixe
  25. Brain Wash Blue


20-25—You regularly trip the light fantastic at a Friday night fish fry.

15-19—You know your way around a dance floor and your grandfather took you fishing regularly when you were a kid.

10-14—You’ve been to a lot of wedding receptions and your grandfather took you fishing once when you were a kid.

5-9—You took a salsa class on a dare and once saw a copy of The Compleat Angler in a bookstore.

1-4—You once ate a worm while hopping on one leg and tell people you did it on a dare.

Answer Key:

Inter-office Memos: National Poetry Month Edition.

Because I could not stop for work—

They sent it to my room—

No one could tell I had no pants—

Because we met in Zoom—

–E. Dickinson & Associates, Amherst

From: elsa.hildegard@

To: All Staff

Subject: Plums!!!

I left a bag of plums in the break room refrigerator. Someone ate them even though the bag was clearly marked with my name on it. They were there for after my morning run. THIS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. Show some respect, people. I don’t want to place blame unfairly but I think whoever did it left their red wheelbarrow out next to the chickens.

From: bill.c.williams@

To: elsa.hildegard@

Subject: RE: Plums!!!

This is just to say

I’m sorry. I have eaten the plums

That you were probably saving for breakfast.

Forgive me. They were delicious,

And I thought they were like the Girl Scout cookies

You brought last week.

From: elsa.hildegard@

To: elsa.hildegard@

Subject: RE: Plums!!!

Okay, Bill, I forgive you, but seriously learn to indent.


From D. Thomas, in the cubicle next to yours:

A Refusal To Mourn Your Departure From The Office


Do not go gentle into retirement,

It’s still too soon for your 401(k).

Now, now, go tell the boss he should get bent.


Your final e-mail has been typed and sent,

You’ve had a cake, and it’s the end of day.

Do not go gentle into retirement,

Now, now, go tell the boss he should get bent.

Coming Up:

Charles Dodgson, L.C., offers advice on wooing celebrity investors in “The Hunting Of The Shark”

Elizabeth Bishop’s instructions on dealing with corporate bankruptcy with “The Art Of Losing”

Walt Whitman contains multitudes, because he’s offering sweet deals on office space.

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