In which David Brooks embarrasses himself again…


David Brooks came to visit us at the Shady Pines Home for the Violently Senile in about 2006. He was invited to give a little talk by the Chairman of our management board, Doctor Phelps. This was, of course, despite my strident objections.

His speech was going to be about “Living in the Future Tense” or some such tripe, which I though was a bit rich, given that he was speaking to a group of people who barely remember the past and present tenses, let alone the future subjunctive.

I was selected to meet-and-greet him, because I had been behaving myself that month. He didn’t seem to recognize me from that embarrassing incident many years before with Ayn Rand. His talk was the usual guff, and he struggled to be heard over the snoring.

Afterwards he was bailed up in the corner by Marge Albrechtson.

Now, Marge is quite doolally. In fact, she’s as mad as a fish. She thinks she is a chamber pot half the time and, I have to say, she’s slightly more coherent at those times. The rest of the day she just babbles a glossolalia mostly consisting of swear words interspersed with farting noises. She also has quite bad incontinence and refuses point blank to wear her Depends. I had been sneaking apple juice to her all morning in case of such an eventuality.

Sandra Frazer, Gloria Peters and I were guzzling all the free champagne at the buffet table and ignoring his frantic signals for one of us to rescue him.

Marge burbled away at Davey for at least half an hour before he managed to escape. He rushed up to us, wringing cold urine out of his trouser cuffs, and started to complain bitterly about being forced to listen to the senseless rantings of an incontinent loon.

At which point Sandra Frazer said, “Well, now you know how the rest of us felt.”

He left shortly thereafter.

I did manage to slip some laxatives into his slice of Battenberg cake, which gave me some quiet satisfaction.

Bad eggs

Image: Filomena Scalise /

There was a woman called Jill Carter who used to come to my church.

When there was a bring-and-buy, she never brought anything. When there was a bake sale, she never baked anything. When there was a wake, she used to show up late and snaffle all the whiskey punch.

Meanest woman I ever did meet.

Of course one day, Father O’Reilly fronted her and the next time she came to a bake sale she brought a bundt cake that killed half the Simmons family with salmonella.

Sometimes you have to leave bad enough alone.

Image: Filomena Scalise /

Don’t drink the chamomile tea

Arsenic and Old Lace

I haven’t been able to drink chamomile tea since 1984 when I was a judge on the Miss Alaska beauty pageant.

Being something of an expert in the art of deportment, I was asked to spend some time with all the girls in the days leading up to the pageant. You would not find a nicer group of young ladies – fine, salt of the earth women – with the exception of young Miss Sarah Heath.

I knew when I first saw her that she was a climber who would claw her way over the half-dead bodies of her parents if she thought it would get her mug on television. She had that same cold, mean urgent look in her eyes that Ayn Rand always had – as if someone else had dropped a dollar in church but not noticed, and she wanted to scrabble about on the floor to find it, and the only thing holding her back was the thought that God might see.

Sarah used to make chamomile tea for all the judges. She’d make a big pot, enough for perhaps ten or fifteen people. Then she’d portion it out into little cupfuls of smarm, and bat her eyelashes and say to me “Oh, Mrs Howard, I have some chamomile tea to spare, and I thought of you.”

However, she never gave any tea to any of the other girls. They’d ask and she’d say “I’m afraid I don’t have any to spare”, and then hide that teapot (which just you knew was still half full) under some towels as if giving away some hot yellow water was going to ruin the family fortune. Oh, she was as mean as a rat with a chocolate truffle.

Then, the day of the pageant, she suddenly started doling out that tea to the other contestants as if Jesus himself had come down for the weekend to check on how generous people were being. None for the judges, but even if one of the girls said they didn’t want any, she’d say “I’ll just leave a cupful for you here in case you change your mind.”

It’s funny. Even with a large majority of the contestants that day showing clear signs of having been doped with cheap crystal meth – one poor girl absolutely freaking out on stage convinced the doves from her magic act were trying to kill her, another sitting staring at her own feet and blubbering about the “terrible claws” – Sarah still only managed to come third.

I mean, really, did you see that flute performance? In that cheap lace blouse and the Margaret Thatcher hair cut, she looked like a cut price Detective Mary Beth Lacey without the fashion sense, the comic timing and the ability to shoot a gun properly.

We gave her Miss Congeniality, of course, because none of us wanted to wake up with a moose head in the bed next to us.

She’s much slicker now, I admit, but if you look in her eyes you can still see the young girl in the ugly blouse who thought that everyone else in the world was stupid and would never see through her tricks.

Cheap trash can become rich trash, but mean and dumb is forever.

[Edited to fix Sarah’s maiden name. My old mind does play tricks on me sometimes. Thanks to Raven for his polite and timely correction.]