Audience Participation Friday: Valentine’s Day Disasters



When I was in college, I worked one Valentine’s Day at a florist’s shop. The florist, a favorite among students at my school, hired several students to deliver flowers on that very busy day. On my first delivery, the recipient met me on the stoop before I had even rung the doorbell. She blinked in wonder, and it appeared that she might hyperventilate. I thought to myself, This is going to be a good day.
I looked at the tag tied around the vase. “You must be Melissa,” I said.

The woman stopped mid-gasp and slumped against the doorjamb. The joy drained out of her face; she suddenly looked very plain. “I knew those weren’t for me,” she said. “It’s all right.”

“It’s all right,” she said, before I could even say I was sorry. And I was sorry indeed for getting the street number wrong and winding up on this stoop, raising hopes that Valentine’s Day could never fulfill.

That’s the problem, really, with Valentine’s Day. People load the day with hopes and expectations that it is insufficient to bear. The poor day collapses under their weight, and we are left with Valentine’s Day disasters, the stuff of anecdote.

After my blunder, I went back to the florist and and, like a football player who asks to be taken out of the game after getting his bell rung, I asked for a job inside the shop. I was assigned the task of sorting the orders and tying the cards to the vases. It seemed safer back there where I wouldn’t be face-to-face with the human drama of the day.

But as I paged through the orders and saw who was sending flowers to whom–many of them students I knew–the heartache from a breakup months earlier began to stir itself like a dragon awakened by the celebrations of nearby villagers.

And then, in the “Deliver To” line of an order form, I saw the name of my old girlfriend.

The smart thing, I suppose, would have been to give the order to somebody else to fill. But it’s not like I was trying to snoop. I was being paid to read the order forms and tie the cards to the vases. So read the order form. The person sending flowers to my old girlfriend was one of my current roommates.

So, there’s my Valentine’s Day disaster. I bet you have one of your own–either one you experienced first hand or one you know about. If you can bear to commit it to writing, today’s Audience Participation Friday topic is Valentine’s Day disasters. Here’s hoping your anecdotes are more amusing than mine.

Feechie of the Week Returns! Python Hunters

It was my intention in this Feechie of the Week to highlight the brave python hunters of the Florida Everglades. As you may know, huge non-native pythons abound in the Everglades; many of them apparently got there in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed a python breeder’s facility and released untold numbers of snakes into the wild. Burmese pythons, as it turns out, love Florida as much as retirees love it. They have thrived there, multiplying and growing to fifteen feet and more. And like so many non-native species (including retirees), they’ve been wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. I’ve seen articles about a few of the fish and wildlife guys whose job is to hunt and kill the pythons in the Everglades. They’re interesting people, and they may be featured yet. But then I remembered something I had seen on Abraham Piper’s website, and the Florida python hunters, with their trucks and guns, paled by comparison.
Picture this: an African rock python has been carrying off your livestock by night and slithering back down its hole. What are you going to do about it? You might get hold of these old boys:

Notice there’s no truck or gun in this picture. These guys are old-school.Read More

Audience Participation Friday: Poetry Challenge

We saw some great poems yesterday using the word splanchnoptosis. It made me wonder what would happen if you had a real challenge. So here’s your challenge for APF: write a poem in which you use at least one of the following words…or prose (no longer than 2 sentences) in which you use all of them.
Boustrophedonic (of or relating to text written from right to left)
Hornswoggle (cheat or swindle; bamboozle)
Palimpsest (a parchment that has been erased and rewritten)
Sesquipedalian (related to long words; characterized by the use of long words)
Xerostomia (dryness of the mouth)

Good luck, friends. I think you’re going to need it.

Audience Participation Friday: Food Favorites

Patrick had a great suggestion for Audience Participation Friday: Give us a story about a meal you’ve eaten. Or write about your favorite food (and why it’s your favorite). Recipes are welcomed, though not required.
I’ll kick things off by telling about a recipe that I invented. If you’ve ever enjoyed a plate of chicken pot pancakes, you’ve got me to thank. I invented that. There was extra chicken pot pie filling in the refrigerator. There were hungry kids in the kitchen. I wasn’t up for making pie crust, but pancakes seemed manageable. So we made pancakes (leaving out sugar), ladeled pot pie filling on top, and ate it. Reviews were mixed (everybody thinks he’s a food critic). Mama, you may not be surprised to learn, wasn’t home at the time.

The floor is now open. Talk about food.

P.S. Patrick also contributed the APF logo you see above. But it’s too creepy by half and probably violates a number of copyright laws. Here’s hoping we can round up another one soon.




Author’s Note: The following anecdote first appeared in a comment on this blog. My store of anecdotes is finite, as my long-suffering wife can (and often does) attest. I can’t afford to bury them in, say, the fifth comment on a post about some other subject. That’s just a rookie mistake. In blogging, as in buffet-style dining, one must pace oneself (especially if one has already re-posted most of one’s pieces from The Rabbit Room). In that spirit, and in honor of the fact that I am writing this on a plane trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, I hereby promote the following anecdote from comment to post. I hope you find it edifying.
I went to college at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville was close enough to Charlotte for me to form opinions about that city. They were largely unfavorable opinions. I don’t remember the details of my case against Charlotte, but they were summed up by the bon mot, “I’ve got no use for a city whose goal in life is to be the next Atlanta!” (I had opinions about Atlanta too.)

Not long after we married, my wife and I were driving through the Carolinas, and as we approached Charlotte I once again laid out my strong anti-Charlotte position for her benefit.

“It doesn’t seem so bad to me,” she said as we passed beneath the shadows of the great glass buildings where bankers were going about their bankerly business.

“Pshaw!” I said.

“I’m hungry,” she said. Do you know any good places to eat in Charlotte?”

“How would I know?” I said. “I’ve never been to Charlotte in my life!”

I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget the expressions on my wife’s face at that moment. A look of astonishment gave way to an angry scowl that shaded into a squint that said, if I read it right, “What have I done? I have just attached myself intimately and irrevocably to a man who speaks very articulately of things he knows nothing about.” I could see the wheels turning as she wondered how many of my other well-considered opinions had not basis in reality.

I am happy to report that I have mellowed on the subject of Charlotte, North Carolina. My prejudices were no match for the reality of the place, which is actually quite pleasant and populated by fine people who have plenty of other hopes and dreams besides trying to be the next Atlanta. Incidentally, I’ve decided Atlanta isn’t so bad either.

Bonus Fact: Charlotte is the largest city between Atlanta and Washington, DC.

Bonus Story Recommendation: In his short story collection Here We Are in Paradise, Nashville writer and Charlotte native Tony Earley has a brilliant story called “Charlotte” that I commend to you. I also commend to you everything else that Tony Earley has ever published.

Audience Participation Friday: What Makes You Connect?

It’s Friday again. Today’s audience participation topic comes from native genius and celebrity look-alike SD Smith. SD, by the way, has been posting some great stuff lately on the Rabbit Room, mostly re-posts from his blog.

Anyway, here’s SD’s APF question:

Tell us what are the top factors that motivate you to be really invested in an author/singer/snow-cone maker etc. What elements are essential to you? Is it good story? A sense of shared values? A sense of connection to the artist (through blog/FB/twitter/attending a concert or signing)?  The person who recommended it?

I love this question and eagerly await your answers.

On another note, I think we need an APF graphic/logo to accompany the post each Friday. Any of you geniuses got any ideas?

Maybe something like this:

My Favorite Jokes: The Smoking Rabbit



There is great wisdom to be found in jokes. There is great foolishness to be found in jokes, too, of course, but I love the ones that sit right in that sweet spot where hilarity meets real insight. This is is one of them:
There was this lab where the scientists were doing research on the health effects of cigarettes. They kept a rabbit in a cage and forced him to smoke cigarettes all day long–four packs a day. The wild rabbits who lived in the woods nearby got wind of what was happening in the lab and were scandalized. So one night after the scientists had gone home to their families, the wild rabbits organized a burgling party to break into the lab and spring the lab rabbit. It went off without a hitch. The rabbits disabled the alarmed, jimmied the door, opened the cage, and scampered out into the moonglow with their new-found comrade before the night watchman ever knew what happened.

It was the best night of the lab rabbit’s life. He fairly snorted the crisp air of freedom and capered about for joy. The wild rabbits took the lab rabbit to raid a nearby garden, and he had carrots and lettuces and radishes for the first time in his life. He had never eaten anything but pelletized food, and he couldn’t believe that such delicacies existed in this world. The rabbits celebrated until the wee hours of the morning, finally sleeping where they fell in exultant exhaustion, satisfied that they had done a good thing in ushering a poor, oppressed brother into new freedom.

When the sun came up, however, the lab rabbit was nowhere to be seen. The wild rabbits looked in every brushpile and behind every stump in the meadow, to no avail. At last they tracked him to the steps of the laboratory, where he was frantically lurching at the locked door.The wild rabbits gaped at one another in mute astonishment. Finally one of them called to the lab rabbit, who, in his frenzy, hadn’t noticed they were behind him. “What are you doing?!” he asked.

The lab rabbit wheeled around, fixed him with a twitchy stare, and barked, “I’ve got to have another cigarette!”

P.S. I told this joke at the dinner table a year or so ago. The next day my daughter regaled her kindergarten class with the story. Her teacher only caught the punch line; picture a little blonde-haired girl with one eye squinted and one eye staring wide declaiming, “I’ve got to have another cigarette!”

Audience Participation Friday: The Girl in Subway

A couple of weeks ago I posted a very short vignette about a girl I saw through the window of a Subway sandwich shop. It was short enough to reproduce in its entirety:
“I walked past a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Nashville the other day. In the booth by the window sat a lovely young woman in a sequined dress. She had the saddest look on her face–a look that said, “You put on a sequined dress, you expect good things to happen; you don’t expect to find yourself in the Subway eating a sandwich at two o’clock in the afternoon.

“The young woman raised her sandwich from the table, but before she got it to her lips, her courage failed her. Her face crumpled, he sandwich dropped to the formica, and she gave herself over to a piteous sobbing.”

A few of you complained at the incompleteness of the thing. Others asked what happened next. The answer, of course, is that I don’t know what happened next. I witnessed all of three seconds of her story. I don’t know how she got in that state either. So I’m turning things over to you, dear reader. Your assignment for Audience Participation Friday is to tell what the girl was so sad about, what happened next, or both.

Smoke Was Smelled: Audience Participation Warmup

I know it’s not Audience Participation Friday yet, but I’ve got this Audience Participation Friday all planned out, and something else came up that needs discussing by the readers of, so this week we’re going to have an Audience Participation Thursday AND an Audience Participation Friday.

I get the twitter feed for the Library of Congress (unfortunately, it’s not as exciting as it sounds). There was a most unusual tweet from the LOC yesterday. It went like this: “The Madison Bldg. has been evacuated after smoke was smelled. Will update.” First, let me say that a later tweet said that the smell was traced to an air handler in the HVAC system. So all is well. But I was a little startled by that phrase “smoke was smelled.” One of the most awkward passive constructions you’re liable to see.

But I’d rather light a candle than curse the Library of Congress’s darkness. So here’s our warm-up discussion question: what should the LOC twitterer have said instead? I appreciate the fact that the twitterer was using sensory language; smoke wasn’t detected, but smelled. And we wouldn’t expect the tweet to say “Joe Wilson smelled smoke in the Madison Building.” So, put yourself in the shoes of the Library of Congress intern (don’t you figure it’s an intern?) who’s in charge of the Twitter feed. How would you have told the Twittersphere the alarming news that everybody was sent screaming from the Madison Building on account of fire? Remember, you only get 140 characters.

Bonus Warmup: For Audience Participation Friday, you’ll be telling more of the story of the girl we left crying in the Subway sandwich shop a couple of weeks ago. What was she crying about? What happened next? I’m giving you a heads up so you’ll have some time to think on it.

Symbolism and The Prison-Issue Joke Book

There was this guy who got sent to prison. Wandering around the yard on his first day, he noticed that a man would shout out a number–“a hundred and twelve” or “thirteen” or “seventy-eight”–and everybody within earshot would laugh and laugh. Perplexed, the new prisoner asked one of his colleagues what everybody was laughing about. “Jokes,” the old prisoner said. “Remember the prison-issue joke book you got when you got here–along with the the prison-issue khakis and prison-issue toothbrush?”
“Yes,” said the new man.

“Well, we’ve all read through the joke book so many times that we know all the jokes by number. So instead of telling each other the jokes, we just call out the number to the joke we want to tell. Saves a lot of time.”

Eager to fit in, the new inmate stood up on a bench in the prison yard and yelled, “Forty-six!” Everybody stopped and stared. Nobody laughed. Near the corner of the bench the man heard one prisoner say to another, “Some guys don’t know how to tell a joke.”


I taught my way through Vanderbilt’s PhD program, and when we discussed symbolism, I always told the joke about the prison-issue joke book. It was my way of explaining what T.S. Eliot called “the objective correlative.” Here’s how Eliot himself explained it:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

When I taught literature, I was very interested in symbolism and the objective correlative. It certainly gives you something to talk about with freshmen and sophomores. Step 1: “What do trees symbolize in All Quiet on the Western Front?” Steps 2-14: “Here on page [fill in blank], the author mentions a tree. What do you think he’s trying to get across here?” In other words, you learn the formula (the set of objects, the situation, the chain of events) and thenceforth, whenever you encounter the formula, you crank out the meaning or the emotion. Read More

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