Letter From Milo: Good Grooming

April 23rd, 2018

I was having a pleasant conversation with my sweet, gray-haired mother when she stopped in mid-sentence, stared at me for a moment, and said, “When are you going to get rid of that ugly thing on your chin?”

“What? You mean my goatee?”

“Oh, is that what you call it? Looks more like a hamster attached itself to your face.”

“Mom, that’s kind of harsh. I’ve been told that the goatee makes me look distinguished. My daughters, your own grandchildren, like it. They say it’s cool.”

“Well, they’re lying to you. That nasty thing makes you look like a mangy old goat. It probably smells bad, too. Why don’t you do the world a favor and shave it off?”

“Damn, Mom, I bet you don’t talk to your daughter like that.”

“Your sister is a mean, spiteful bitch. She hasn’t spoken to me since I told her she was getting fat.”

There was a time, when I was a young man, when facial hair was very popular. I remember a group photo that was taken in Sterch’s tavern in the mid-1970s. Every guy in the picture, including me, was bearded or had some sort of facial growth. We looked like the House of David baseball team, or characters in a Matthew Brady Civil War photo.

The variety of whiskers in the photo was impressive. There were full beards, droopy Pancho Villa moustaches, Van Dykes, modified goatees, bushy sideburns that Isaac Asimov would have envied, something that vaguely resembled the traditional Amish beard, and a few follicular arrangements that defied description. Most of the guys had pretty long hair, too.

I had a full beard when I met the future lovely Mrs. Milo. At first, she didn’t seem to mind the beard, but after a few months she began complaining that it smelled like smoke. So, rather than quit smoking, I shaved off the beard, which I thought solved the problem neatly.

I stayed clean shaven for many years. I paid no attention to the beard styles that regularly popped up and quickly faded away. I had no interest in cultivating the scruffy Miami Vice look or sporting a grungy soul patch. And I thought manicured mutton chops looked ridiculous.

I didn’t give any thought to facial hair again until about three years ago, when I was hired as Society, Lifestyle and Religion columnist, here at The Third City. To be completely honest, I don’t know why they hired me in the first place. The only qualifications I had were an honorable discharge from the Army, a reference from a prominent bartender and a good reefer connection. I didn’t even look the part. I looked more like a gandy dancer than a columnist.

I felt like a complete fraud. If it wasn’t for the chicks and the money, I would have walked away from the job after a couple of weeks.

That’s when I decided to grow a goatee. A well-groomed goatee can make an insignificant person seem important, a stupid person seem smart, and a nebbish seem hip. It can cover a multitude of personal and intellectual failings, and it does wonders for a weak chin.

There’s nothing like stroking your goatee and gazing thoughtfully into the distance to make people believe you’re thinking great thoughts. The chin hair didn’t actually make me a better writer, it just made me look like a better writer.

The goatee probably saved my blogging career. That’s why I felt so bad when my mother told me that it looked like shit. I have always considered myself an exceptionally handsome man. If anything, I thought the goatee enhanced my striking good looks. But my mother had put doubt in my mind. Maybe I was wrong about the facial hair.

I went into the bathroom and stared into the mirror. Perhaps the goatee did make me look older. There were more gray whiskers on my chin than dark ones. And maybe it did look ragged around the edges. I had to be more careful about my grooming. I stared into the mirror for a long time. The longer I looked, the more I feared my mother was right in her assessment.

And then I shaved the damn thing off.

A few hours later, my wife and daughter returned from a shopping trip. When my daughter saw my clean shaven face, she shrieked, “Dad! Why did you shave the goatee? It looked really good on you. It was cool.”

My wife chimed in. “Why did you do it? It made you look sort of distinguished.”

“I was talking to Mom and she said it made me look old and ugly. She said it smelled bad, too.”

“You know I love your mother, but she has terrible eyesight and Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s liable to say anything. Half the time she doesn’t even remember my name.”

“Well,” I said, rubbing my hairless chin thoughtfully and gazing off into the distance, “maybe I was a bit hasty.”

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Letter From Milo: Paranoia Strikes Deep

April 16th, 2018

Recently, the lovely Mrs. Milo asked me what I would like to have done with my remains in the unlikely event that I should someday die.

“Jesus! That’s a hell of thing to ask a guy before he’s even had a chance to enjoy his morning whiskey and cigarette.”

“I’m serious, honey. Responsible adults have to make these kinds of decisions.”

“This is a thoroughly disagreeable conversation, but I suppose you’re right. What are my options?”

“Cremation or burial.”

“Neither of those choices appeals to me. I was thinking mummification would be the way to go.”

“I doubt we can afford that.”

“God damn it, if it’s a matter of money, just put me in a plastic bag and leave me out in the alley on Tuesday morning. The Department of Streets and Sanitation will take care of everything. It won’t cost a cent.”

There are actually many other ways of disposing of corpses than just burial or cremation. Bodies can be buried at sea, dissolved by caustic chemicals, donated to science, exposed to the elements, frozen in liquid nitrogen, sold to private collectors, or left in the trunks of cars parked at Midway Airport.

My personal favorite carcass disposal method is the eco-friendly practice of ritual cannibalism, which is generally frowned upon in the USA, but still highly popular in many parts of Eastern Europe..

Normally I wouldn’t have hesitated in gleefully pointing out my wife’s ignorance of less traditional burial customs, but I didn’t want to antagonize her. She has been in a nasty mood the last few months and I didn’t want to start another argument.

The sad truth is that we haven’t been getting along as well as I’d like. She finds fault with me on a daily basis. It seems that anything I do or say pisses her off. I hate to use a cliché, but I have been walking on egg shells.

Then, the other day, as I was enjoying some red wine and reefer, a disturbing thought occurred to me. Why was the lovely Mrs. Milo so interested in figuring out a way to dispose of my earthly remains? What was going on in that pretty head of hers? Was there something I needed to know?

I decided to keep a close eye on her, just in case. Soon, I noticed that she was exhibiting strange patterns of behavior. For one thing, she was spending much more time than usual watching movies on the Lifetime and Oxygen channels. She also started reading self-help books, like Accidents Rarely Happen By Accident, and Women Are From Venus, Men Are Rat Bastards. She also bought a new cookbook called Unusual Italian Recipes, by Lucy Borgia.

I realized I was probably being foolish. Still, a guy can’t be too careful. I decided to call my sister, a refined, accomplished woman, and get her advice.

“Hey, Sis, it’s your only brother.”

“What the fuck do you want? If you’re calling to borrow money you can just forget about it.”

“I just need some advice.”

“Make it quick. I haven’t got all day.”

When I explained what was on my mind, my sister said, “You’re an idiot,” and hung up the phone.

That night I wandered into the kitchen as my wife was making dinner. I didn’t recognize what she was preparing, so I asked, “What’s cooking?”

“Something different. I’m sure you’ll like it.”

“It’s got an interesting aroma. I don’t recognize some of the spices you’re adding.”

“Trust me, it’s to die for. I got it from a new Italian cookbook.”

When we sat down at the table my wife dove right in. She’s always had a good appetite. After a moment, she gave me an odd look and said, “Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“I just saw you give the cat some food from your plate. You’ve never done that before.”

“Heh, heh, I don’t know what got into me.”

“Well, aren’t you going to eat?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m just letting it cool off.”

A bit later, she said, “What are you waiting for?”

“I think I’ll have another glass of wine,” I said, keeping a close eye on the cat. “Then, I’ll eat.”

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Letter From Milo: The Toughest Jew in Town

April 2nd, 2018

Gary, Indiana, in the middle to late 1960s, had a sizeable Jewish population. Like a lot of other families in town, including mine, many of the Jewish families were post-WW2 immigrants.

As is the case with most immigrant groups, Gary’s Jewish community was hard-working and industrious, their lives centered around traditional values like family, faith, education and a belief in a better future. Some did pretty well for themselves.

For example, there was a kid who went to my high school named Joey Stiglitz who was pretty good with numbers. Like any Gary kid with a knack for math, I’m sure Joey aspired to be a bookie. When that career choice fizzled, young Joey Stiglitz tried his luck in the field of Economics and eventually won a Nobel Prize.

I don’t want to give readers the wrong impression about Gary’s Jews. Not all of them were pillars of the community. They had their quota of drunkards, druggies, whoremongers, thieves, gangsters, bookies, murderers, tough guys and rotten bastards. Some of them, I’m proud to say, were dear friends of mine.

That said, the toughest Jew in Gary was a man who made other dangerous men tremble in fear. His reputation as a hard, unforgiving, vengeful badass was legendary. He was a mean, vindictive, cold-blooded, pitiless son-of-a-bitch with a long history of dealing with crime, violence and bloodshed.

His name was Judge Richard Kaplan and he ruled the Gary City Courthouse with an iron hand.

Although Judge Kaplan’s given name was Richard, he was known throughout the City as Judge Max Kaplan because he always handed down maximum sentences. Miscreants who appeared before Judge Kaplan always expected the worst and they were rarely disappointed. He believed everyone was guilty until proven innocent — and he refused to believe that anyone was completely innocent.

As far as I know, only one person ever got the better of Judge Kaplan – and that person was me. Here’s how it happened.

I was 18 years old and going nowhere. I had dropped out of college after one semester and was hanging around Gary, trying to figure out what to do with my life. One night I ran into some friends, went out drinking, got into a wild brawl, got maced by the police and ended up in jail. The charges were illegal possession of alcohol, public intoxication, creating a public disturbance, assault and battery and resisting arrest, although, to this day, I believe the last charge was a bum rap.

When I was released on bail the next morning, I was given some paperwork informing me of my upcoming court date, which was just a few weeks away. The presiding judge was going to be “the Honorable Richard Kaplan.” My goose was cooked. I was a goner, as doomed as it was possible for a young man to be. To make matters worse, I had a couple previous run-ins with the law, and I was fairly certain that Judge Kaplan would hold that against me.

That evening, I was hanging out in Stu and Ducky Greene’s basement with a few other guys, drinking beer and listening to the brothers’ collection of shoplifted 45s.

“You are fucked, man,” Ducky said, sadly. “You’re looking at 90, maybe 120 days in Crown Point.”

”That’s if Judge Max lets you off easy,” Stu Greene added. “If he’s in a bad mood it could be worse. It’s a good thing you’re not Jewish.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Because he’s extra tough on his own kind.”

Dickie Simon, another friend who had an unpleasant experience with the City’s justice system, spoke up. “Too bad you’re not in the military. That’s Judge Max’s only soft spot. He takes it easy on soldiers. He’s an ex-Marine Captain, fought in World War Two.”

The next morning I went down to 7th and Broadway, walked into the Navy Recruiter’s office, and said, “I want to join up.” I spent several hours filling out paperwork. The only thing I had to do to officially be in the Navy was sign on the dotted line. But, I hesitated to sign. “Do you mind if I take these papers home and show them to my mom and dad?” I asked.

“You’re 18 years old. You don’t need your parents’ permission.”

“I know. But I’d like to show them anyway. I’ll be back tomorrow. I promise.”

The next morning I went down to the Courthouse, explained my situation to a secretary and asked to see Judge Kaplan in his chambers. After a two hour wait I was ushered into Judge Kaplan’s office.

“Tell me what you want and make it quick,” the Judge said, not even bothering to look at me.

The last place on earth I wanted to be was in a courthouse, talking to Judge Kaplan. I was nervous as hell, scared actually, but somehow I got through my poorly rehearsed pack of lies. I told the Judge that I was terribly sorry for any trouble I had caused. I explained that my inexcusable behavior was due to immaturity and the influence of bad companions. I said that I had given my situation a lot of thought and realized that by joining the Navy I would get away from bad influences and be in a disciplined situation where I would have the opportunity to become a responsible member of society.

Judge Kaplan quickly glanced at the Navy paperwork I laid on his desk, then looked at me for the first time. “I dislike young punks and criminals because they usually grow up to be old punks and criminals,” he said. “Had your case gone to court, it wouldn’t have turned out well for you. But I have a feeling that you’re a sincere young man. Your decision to join the military is a wise one, especially with our nation at war. I’m going to dismiss this case. Good luck in the Navy, son. Just remember, be on your best behavior. If you get in trouble, I can assure you that the officers who sit on military tribunals are not as good natured as I am. Now, get the hell out of my chambers.”

As soon as I left the Courthouse, I went back to the Navy Recruiter and handed him the paperwork. “I’m sorry,” I said, “But I changed my mind. I think I’m going to study for the priesthood instead.”

There was a strut in my walk when I left the Recruiters’ office. I was pretty proud of myself. I had gone into the lion’s den and come out without a scratch. I had outwitted the dreaded Judge Kaplan. I had gotten the best of the toughest Jew in town.

My euphoria was short-lived, however. A couple of months later I received my draft notice. And a few months after that I was in Vietnam.

Many years later, when Judge Kaplan died, an old Gary friend sent me a copy of the judge’s obituary. When I read it I noticed that Judge Max had served on the Lake County, Indiana Draft Board, which meant that he had a say-so about which local boys were eligible for the draft.

Was it just a coincidence that I got drafted so soon after pulling a fast one on the judge?

I couldn’t help but smile when I realized that maybe, just maybe, the tough old bastard had the last laugh after all.

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Letter From Milo: Three Piss Poor Choices

March 26th, 2018

1. I’ve got a friend, let’s call him Joe to spare him any embarrassment, who made it pretty big out in Hollywood. Joe struggled for years before finally finding his niche. He worked as a script reader, tried his hand at acting and failed miserably as a writer before achieving success as a producer.

By way of explanation for you clueless, pathetic losers who aren’t privy to the inside Hollywood shit like I am, the title of “producer” is meaningless. Being a producer is like being a Kentucky Colonel. It’s as much a joke as it is a genuine honorific.

A person doesn’t have to produce anything to be a producer. The only criteria for being a producer is having the audacity to declare yourself one. There must be tens of thousands of people, probably more, calling themselves producers, but only a small fraction of those people have ever actually produced a movie or TV show.

My friend, Joe, is one of the lucky ones. He actually produces films. This is a story about the first film he produced. Against all odds, he ran across a good script, found two bankable actors willing to do it, and rounded up the financing for production.

When it came time to discuss his compensation, the money men offered Joe a flat fee or a piece of the action, whichever he preferred. Now, Joe is no country boy. He is a Chicagoan, born and bred. He understands that making movies is a crapshoot. He also understands that Hollywood bookkeeping is an art form, every bit as creative as writing, painting or musical composition.

Joe opted for a flat fee.

As luck would have it, the movie turned out to be a huge hit, making several hundred million dollars. Had Joe taken a piece of the action, his payday would have been 15 times larger.

The movie did so well that the money men decided to make a sequel. They figured it was a can’t-miss proposition. So did Joe. This time he took a piece of the action. Of course, the sequel turned out to be a huge flop, making about 20 bucks worldwide. Joe claims he didn’t even make expenses.

“The only good thing that came out of it,” Joe explained, “is that now I’m able to produce more movies. You see, making two movies and having one of them be a big hit is an astounding track record in the film business. Now all I have to do is figure out how to make some fucking money.”

2. I have a good friend, let’s call him Bruce Diksas to spare him any embarrassment, who was hanging out in the Pacific Northwest around 1980. He had followed a woman to Seattle in the hope of keeping a romance alive. The woman had enrolled in graduate school and spent most of her days in class or studying, so, Bruce found himself with a lot of time on his hands. And, like any ambitious, industrious, hard-working young man, Bruce decided to spend his free time in one of Seattle’s many legal poker rooms.

Now, Bruce is a pretty good poker player, but, like all of us who enjoy the game, he thinks he’s much better than he really is. He usually lost more than he won. Despite his bad luck, Bruce enjoyed his time at the tables, Playing poker all day was a very pleasant way to pass the time.

One of the main topics of conversation at the tables was a small business located in a storefront across the street from the card room. It seemed that the business was a source of local pride. It was growing rapidly and would soon be going public. A few of the players at the tables discussed the pros and cons of investing in the company, buying a few shares to help out the local boys.

Out of curiosity, Bruce stepped outside to check out the storefront. He was thinking about sinking a few hundred dollars into the company, just for the hell of it. As soon as he saw its name on the storefront window, however, Bruce, knew that the company had no chance of success. It was a stupid name. It made no sense. Shouldn’t a company’s name say what it does? Shouldn’t it at least be catchy, something that sticks in the mind? Why even have a company if you can’t give it a decent name? Any company with a name like that was doomed to failure. He’d be better off investing in lottery tickets.

The company’s name was “Microsoft.”

“I still say it’s a stupid name,” Bruce says to me years later.

“A lot of those internet companies have dumb names,” I reply. “Look at Yahoo or Google.”

Pouring himself another drink, Bruce says, “You’ll notice I didn’t buy any shares in those companies, either.”

3. I’ve got another friend, let’s call him Milo to spare him any embarrassment, who, in the mid 1970s, lived in a coach house on Burling Street just south of Armitage. The neighborhood, in those pre-gentrification days, was still very rough, gang-infested, with run-down buildings everywhere. Milo shared the place with his friends Bruce Diksas and Wayne Gray, and they split the 80 dollars a month rent.

Granted, 80 dollars a month was not a lot of money, even in the 1970s. Still, it was not always easy coming up with the 27 dollars apiece every month. None of the boys worked regularly and what money they scraped up was usually earmarked for drugs and alcohol, and occasionally a greasy hot dog at the Doggie Diner on Armitage.

The property was owned by a retired bartender named John, and he didn’t mind if the boys were late with the rent once in a while. Milo, Bruce and Wayne were a scruffy, eccentric and endlessly entertaining trio, more Stooges than Musketeers. The old barkeep enjoyed their company, joining the boys for backyard cookouts and drinkfests. One of the boys even talked John into smoking his first joint, which, to the old man’s surprise, he enjoyed immensely.

Sadly, John’s health began to fail. He couldn’t take care of the property anymore. Just walking up and down the stairs had become a chore. It was time, he decided, to sell the property and move into the Polish Eagle Nursing Home in Marquette Park.

John offered the property to Milo for $32,000. Think about it. A two-flat with a coach house in the DePaul/Lincoln Park neighborhood for a little over $30,000. Even though he had no money, Milo could have easily purchased the place. As a military veteran he could have taken advantage of the G.I. Bill and bought the property with no money down.

After giving it a little thought, Milo decided NOT to buy the place. When someone asked him why he chose not to buy, Milo haughtily replied, “I’m not into property, man.”

Those five words have haunted Milo for years. The property that he refused to buy for roughly 30K, is now worth in excess of one million dollars.

Sometimes, when Milo tells the story of his lost real estate opportunity, someone will ask, “If you weren’t into property, what exactly were you into?”

Milo always ruefully replies, “At the time, I was into stupidity.”

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Letter From Milo: Re-Adjustment Blues

March 19th, 2018

Every Friday afternoon, I go to the Vet Center in Evanston and spend about an hour chatting with a psychologist named Dr. Betsy. When Dr. Betsy’s done with me, I like to hang around the place for a while, drinking coffee, making small talk with some of the guys, or just sitting in an easy chair reading a book or magazine.

I like the Vet Center. I’m comfortable there. I feel at ease.

The Vet Centers were established, by Act of Congress, in 1979, as community outreach programs to help Vietnam Veterans who were experiencing re-adjustment problems. After years of being ignored, Vietnam vets now had access to counseling that helped with PTSD, substance abuse problems, homelessness, employment issues, violent or suicidal tendencies, and other situations that plague combat veterans.

In 1991, following the Gulf War, Congress extended eligibility to the men who served in post-Vietnam hostilities. By 1996, the Act was extended to any veterans who had served in any war zone, going back to Korea and WW2.

I’ve been making the weekly trip to Evanston for about eight years now. I keep going back because Dr. Betsy and some of the other counselors have helped me weather a few stormy episodes.

But the real reason I keep going back is because I like to spend time, even if it’s just a few minutes or half an hour, with my fellow veterans.

I don’t know any of the guys very well. We’re just casual acquaintances. Many of them seem like regular guys, working stiffs, family men, retirees, the kind of people you’d run into at the grocery store, corner tavern or bowling alley.

But some of the guys that frequent the Evanston Vet Center – and I say this with love, understanding and compassion in my heart – are fucking crazy. These poor souls may be physically present, right here on the USA, but some essential parts of them are still wandering distant battlefields.

One guy I run into at the Vet Center constantly threatens to get vengeance on people who have offended him or treated him shabbily. He’s got a long shit list and adds names to it daily. To hear him tell it, one of these days there’ll be a bloodbath in the streets of Chicago that will make Iwo Jima look like a brawl at a Serbian wedding.

The guy is in his late 60s or early 70s and, as far as I know, has never harmed anyone.

Another guy I see regularly is a Vietnam vet who sits in a corner and talks to himself. He doesn’t just utter a few phrases. He has long complicated conversations with himself, complete with hand gestures, song fragments, and snorts of disgust. Occasionally, he’ll slap himself on the forehead and say something like, “Serves your ass right for fuckin’ around like that.”

One old-timer brings his wife to the Vet Center, and they bicker constantly. I can’t say for sure, but I believe they have the same argument every time. Once in a while the husband turns to others in the room and asks, “Did you hear that? Did you hear what she just said to me?”

Most people have the good sense not to get involved. When he asks me the question, I usually say, “Sorry, man, I wasn’t paying attention.”

When I mentioned what I had observed in the waiting lounge to Dr. Betsy, she said, “PTSD. Some have it worse than others. The stress of combat on young, not yet fully formed minds can be devastating. And sometimes the damage doesn’t show up for years.”

As I was driving home from my Friday appointment, thinking about my fellow vets, an odd thought occurred to me. What did those old soldiers see when they looked at me?

“There’s something wrong with that guy. He never says shit to anybody, just sits in the corner, drinking coffee, reading a book or scribbling shit in that note pad he carries.”

“I don’t trust him. He’s probably got a lot of nasty shit going through his head.”

“He’s got an evil look in his eye, too.”

“The dude don’t look right. I expect he’ll snap one of these days and do something stupid or dangerous.”

“Best keep an eye on him.”

Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not.

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Letter From Milo: Self Abuse

March 12th, 2018

I was having a few drinks with an old friend, who I’ll call Leon to spare him undue embarrassment, when he told me that his wife had recently caught him jacking off.

“It was embarrassing as hell,” Leon said. “I mean, it’s bad enough that a 63-year-old man is jerking himself off, but when your wife catches you red-handed, well, it’s fucking mortifying.”

“Jesus, Leon, what got into you?”

“It was just one of those things. I was sitting at the computer when I saw a photo of Helen Mirren in a bikini and the urge came over me. I just couldn’t help myself.”

“I hate to state the obvious, but you’ve got a perfectly good wife at home, real nice looking, too. Why didn’t you just go make her an offer she couldn’t refuse?”

“I didn’t want to bother her. She was watching American Idol. She loves American Idol.”

“What did she do when she walked in on you?”

“She started laughing, then went to call her girlfriends.”

“Jesus.”

The great novelist and poet, Jim Harrison, once wrote, “The older a man gets the more weird things he has to do to get his dick hard.” He understood that the urge to enjoy life’s most basic pleasure won’t be denied, at any age. Men and women will risk everything – their reputations, fortunes and lives – in pursuit of sexual pleasure. In certain cultures, where God’s name is used to condemn the very instinct which God has given us, adulterers are routinely sent to the gallows, chopping block and stoning field.

Despite the threat of gruesome death and public humiliation, there is never a shortage of adulterers.

Everything considered, simple masturbation seems like a harmless and pleasant way to pass the time, just a guy, his hand and his imagination. Not that I would know anything about masturbating, you understand. As a legendary pussy magnet, seldom without the company of beautiful women (many of who, by the way, are now prominent, prosperous and pampered North Shore matrons), I’ve rarely had to resort to what the Brit’s call “the schoolboy’s comfort.”

The Third City’s motto is “We rarely lie to the American people.” So, I’ll admit to having masturbated at least once, about 25 tears ago. But it was for a good cause. The lovely Mrs. Milo and I were trying to have a family, but there seemed to be a small problem, which required her to have a minor adjustment to her system and required me to provide a sperm sample.

When my lovely wife explained the situation to me, I asked, “What exactly does that mean?”

“It means you have to go to Illinois Masonic Hospital in two days and masturbate into a specimen jar.”

“Are you shitting me? Why can’t I do it here and just drop the jar off?”

“The sample has to be fresh. It can’t be more than an hour old. You have to be there at 6:30 in the morning and you can’t drink or smoke weed the night before.”

“Ah, fuck.”

Two mornings later, after stopping at a newsstand to pick up a skin magazine, I arrived at the hospital for my appointment. I found the right floor and approached a young nurse sitting at a desk. I gave her my name and explained the reason for my visit. She went through some papers, handed me a specimen jar and, pointing to the men’s room, said, “You can use that facility.”

I doubt there’s a worse place to try and work up a chubby than a stark, brightly lit, hospital men’s room that smells of disinfectant. But I comforted myself with the thought that men have jacked off in the strangest places. They’ve beaten their meat in foxholes and prison cells. They’ve waxed their stacks in boardrooms and department store fitting stalls. They’ve choked their chickens in airplane restrooms and the coal mine at the Museum of Science and Industry. At this very moment there’s probably a Russian astronaut polishing his pole on the Mir Space Station.

When I finished I went back to the nurse’s station and handed the young nurse the specimen jar. I may have been overly sensitive at that point, because I thought I detected a smirk on her face when she accepted the jar and said, “Thank you.”

“That’s okay, sweetie,” I replied. “I’m an old hand at this sort of thing.”

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Letter From Milo: Otis, the Comeback Cat

March 5th, 2018

After taking a brutal beating from a feral tabby, a few months ago, Otis became a changed cat. He lost his swagger. He was no longer a kingpin tomcat, the badass who bullied the other toms in the area, dined in Lincoln Square’s best dumpsters, and frolicked with the finest pussy cats in the neighborhood.

Otis was now 16 or 17 years old, battered and scarred, just another worn-out old tomcat, his best days behind him. He had been to the top of the mountain, but he’d never fly that high again. And he knew it. His spirit was broken.

When Otis recovered from his physical injuries, he sank into a deep depression. He seemed to lose interest in everything, including food, catnip, and the random slaughter of mice, bunny rabbits and song birds. He even quit paying attention to the sexy Angora cat that belongs to Mrs. Shimkus, our next door neighbor.

Personally, I was glad to see him suffer. I never liked the bastard anyway. He’s made my life a living hell ever since he followed my youngest daughter home, about 13 years ago. If it wasn’t for the fact that my wife and children, who’d grown very fond of him, told me there’d be hell to pay if anything happened to the cat, I would have strangled the fucker a long time ago.

Still, as much as I despised Otis, I hated to see him moping around the house. Nobody likes having a depressed cat around.

“Hey, dumbass!” I said to the cat. “Snap out of it. Act your age. You’ve got a few good years left. Why waste them fighting with cats half your age? That’s a battle you’ll never win. We all have to accept our limitations. You don’t see me chasing after young chicks and getting in fights with 20-year-olds. I learned a long time ago that you can’t be a top cat forever, but being a middle cat isn’t that bad.”

Otis must have taken my pep talk to heart, because I soon noticed a change in his behavior. He seemed to be coming out of his funk. He stopped hiding in the basement and resumed his favorite position on the radiator under the bay window, where he could keep an eye on the street. He began taking pleasure in his five o’clock catnip again. And one day I found the pathetic remains of a half-eaten mouse in the back yard.

When I let Otis out of the house, he didn’t immediately rush next door and start fighting with the half dozen other tomcats who were hanging around Mrs. Shimkus’ house, all of them hoping to get a shot at Missy, the sexy young cat who spent most of the day grooming herself in the front window.

Instead, Otis began keeping company with Martha, a middle-aged, somewhat frumpy, but still attractive cat that lived on Wilson Avenue.

I realized Otis had finally figured out his new position in the alley cat hierarchy when one of my neighbors, Mrs. Torkelson, stormed up my walkway and confronted me on my front porch, where I was enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey.

“I should call the police on you,” she said, angrily.

“What did I do this time?”

“Your rotten cat beat up my Mr. Buttons.”

“You can’t blame me for that. Cats are going to fight. It’s their nature.”

“But Mr. Buttons is 23 years old, blind, and can hardly walk.”

“Well, then, he shouldn’t have fucked with Otis.”

“Oh, you’re a horrible man. I’m going to report you to the Alderman.”

Later that day, when Otis returned from his regular afternoon visit to the corner restaurant’s dumpster, I noticed that he had gotten some of his swagger back. There was a bit of strut in his step.

No, Otis isn’t the badass he used to be, but he’s still bad enough.

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