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Hold the Mayo

He was born to do this job.  If he could do it all over again and have a choice to have it happen the way it did or work at McDonald’s and live to be 104?  He’d do it all over again.

Jan Brown, on the death of her son, killed in Afghanistan, 2011


The Mayor Meets the Minstrels

Last week’s worthless minstrel, Trini Trodon, sang out of tune and hadn’t even heard that the Occupation began taking over upscale coffee shops and men’s rooms a month before.   This time, as Mariah and I passed through the rowdy Occupation cordon with their trash barrel bonfires into the Classless Society, I prayed for at least a decent show.  I wanted to be free of the growing desperation outside, if only for a few hours.  I knew it waited just outside the doorway, and would get worse as winter set in.  Inside we found just what we were looking for, an aura of acoustic music, dark oak paneling, and flickering candlelight.  We were greeted by a duet, the dulcet tones of her alto and his mellifluous baritone voice accompanied by his steel resophonic guitar. They perched on large black cobweb-covered amplifiers gathering dust on the tiny stage, with a purring CatBulb glowing faintly to one side.  They had no Fix-a-Voice but sang in tune by their own talent.  I hoped they would teach us, inform us, and entertain us.

I recognized the lines they sang from the Song of Hiawatha.  Raised in a time of channel and Web surfing, my own short attention span never managed to memorize thousand-line Iliads or Aeneids.  To say nothing of plucking lute or lyre.  I was thus doubly impressed by the pair as they sat in the barroom singing and playing to the hushed crowd.

He with the ‘didn’t bother shaving’ beard of a heartthrob sat up straight and picked out chords on the metal guitar. Her willowy figure stood in a long dark velvet gown with rhinestones that glittered in the candlelight, playing a flute between stanzas.  They sang a perfect duet, not just in tune but balanced in volume and tone.  As Mariah and I finally found seats on the floor, the duet sang a jingle about the Classless Society, then began singing the news.  My eardrums buzzed pleasantly and I felt a wave of calm wash over me.

Mariah listened to what they sang and then whispered to me, “How can everyone be above average?  That’s not mathematically possible!”  It was as if a spell had been broken, and I was jolted awake.  The flow of words stopped and the woman smoothly transitioned to the flute.  The crowd turned as one to Mariah and shushed her rudely.

As soon as everyone quieted and turned their attention back to the couple on the stage, she set aside the flute and duet resumed.  Their words picked up where they left off, not letting the crowd miss one bit of the narrative.


She had five hundred, he was four-oh-nine,

They could have split the difference, worked it down in time.

Hers the only books in town, he the only vet.

Come and read a book of hers while he checks out your pet.

It didn’t have to end that way, it could have been fine.

It’s sad, so sad, people create their own misery…


I thought that romantic issues in someone else’s small town didn’t interest me, but at least that meant there was no important bad news.  Then it occurred to me:  What did these two sing about our town as they traveled around?

After the news song was finished, the mosh pit cranked up as kids outran their attention spans and strove to keep warm in the chilling room.  I couldn’t hear any footsteps on the thick carpet, since wooden shoes had been forbidden the summer before.  I understood the serious part of the program was done, and the duo switched to a kids’ song about coffee in a copper kettle.  At last the music stopped and Al the bartender started a roaring fire in the hearth.  I could smell hickory in the mix of burning wood.  The crowd relaxed and conversation bubbled up.  The duo was surrounded by well-wishers with plenty of offers to put them up for the night, and I lost sight of them.

I headed to the bar when it was finally open for business.  I was about to order the Gopher the Gusto Pale Ale on tap when old Blevins leaned over and recommended the local Pinot.  “Just think of it,” he said as he raised his glass, “the local vintages are finally as good as the Sonoma County pinots, before the heat baked away the whole California industry.”  He sipped and smacked his lips.  “Ah, I miss Papapietro Perry.”  After a deep sigh, he said, “But try the ’47 Gopherific.  It beats that Gopher Baroque swill.”  My eyes widened when I heard him pronounce the word ‘Gopherific’ without a hint of slurring.

“What about the cold weather and the snow?” I asked.

He grunted and said, “Over the years we’ve been getting less while Napa Valley gets more.  On average we’ve been getting warmer while they get colder.  We’re about equal now.  It’s the severity of weather extremes that poses the hazard.  Vineyards have the technology to ward off the extreme cold to even the score.  California predicted its own wine demise decades ago.”

I was amazed at this lecture, the longest I remembered ever hearing from him.  Still, Blevins knew the old stories and was a wine snob from way back, so I took his advice.  Gopherific had deep, complex red cherry aromas, notes of cinnamon and spice on the nose and on the palate.  I brought a glass for Mariah and we sat on the floor.  “You won’t believe this, but old Blevins recommended this,” I said.

“Why won’t I believe it?” she asked.  “He may never be sober but he knows his wines.”

“No, he sounded … sober,” I said.  I looked over at him, still at the bar but talking rather than drinking.  “He looks good, not flushed.  It’s like…”  I shrugged.  “It’s like he’s normal.”

Closing time came when Al’s nightly quota of firewood ran out and the Classless Society dipped towards freezing. Water dripped off an icicle in the rafter onto my head as Mariah and I headed for the door.  “Sign of a leak,” I thought.  “Freezing, thawing, this place can’t last long.” As we left, I saw the Occupation was gone for the night as well.  The streets were dark, and the barrel fires had gone out.  After our eyes adjusted to the dark, we dodged the cold barrels and empty Thunderbird flasks both intact and not on the sidewalk and headed down 4th Street.  “Rochester,” I said, “the city where the bottles break.”

Mariah walked a few more paces, then said, “Rochester and Minneapolis.  Chicago and New Orleans.  Even Bethlehem, PA.  It’s like this everywhere, not just here.”

“But I’m here,” I said. “I’m responsible for what happens here, not in Pennsylvania.  And the glass is broken right here.  I can’t clean it all up with my hands, one piece at a time.”

“You don’t need to.  You couldn’t if you tried.  And the same people who broke bottles tonight may well be the ones who sweep it up tomorrow.  It’s a surreal kind of job security.”

I asked Mariah, “Ever wonder where they go after dark?”

She looked at me and said, “Who, the Occupados?  Or is it Indignados?  Whichever they call themselves today.  I bet a lot of them have homes, maybe squatting somewhere after the Crash.  They aren’t all completely destitute.  Most of them have jobs of some kind.  They get up in the morning and work, just not lucrative work.”

“Like what?” I asked.  “They can’t all be orderlies at the Clinic.”

I saw her breath steam out in a sigh.  “Raking leaves for the doctors.  Mowing lawns for the docs.  Cooking meals, scrubbing floors, washing cars.  For the docs.”  She stopped suddenly and inhaled.  “I’m sorry,” she said.

“The docs,” I said.  “What happens to this town if they all just … vanish?”

“If?” she asked.  “After 200 years, the Clinic might – would it?”  She grabbed my sleeve playfully and asked, “Disappear like the stars when the sun rises?  Look at them now while we have them.”

She pointed up at the stars visible in the waning crescent moon and we lingered for a minute.  We inhaled the earthy smell of fallen leaves and fireplace smoke.  The sky spread before us with a wash of stars, marred only by a single copter with running lights heading for the clinic.  It hushed across the sky, and scarcely caused a breeze as it passed overhead.  When it was gone, the darkness closed back in around us.  I felt sorry for those who lived back when the sky was bleached out by streetlights.

“In a few nights we’ll need to bring cats with us,” I said, trying to stretch the moment.

Mariah smiled and sighed.  “Binky always hates the cold.”

“Good thing you got me a KatPack – or rather you got Mr. Pizza one,” I said.  “He’ll appreciate that.  And he glows bright enough for two cats.”

She smiled and gave an exaggerated sigh.  “I’d better go feed my not-too-bright cat.  Besides, it’s getting cold out here and I’m feeling inspired.  What do you think about matching figurines of those troubadours?  Solid mahogany, I can match her skin color.  I can set up the laser and have prototypes done overnight.”

After an embrace meant to warm us as we parted, Mariah went to her woodcarving studio in the backyard and I headed for the house, shivering in the cooling Minnesota breeze.


The next day I stood in the grocery’s ‘Two Items or Less’ line and there they were, last night’s duo.  “Good morning,” I said.  “I’m Peter Sakalov.  Thanks for visiting and singing for us last night.”

“Oh, yes!” the man exclaimed.  “You’re the town drunk –”  His partner suddenly kicked him in the shin. “- er, mayor of Rochester,” he continued.  “I’m Apollo and this is Artemis.”

“Pardon my associate’s rudeness,” Artemis said sweetly.  “We may have been misinformed.”  Then she gazed directly into my eyes and asked, “So you should know if anyone does, what is the town average?  No one can tell us for sure.”

I pondered a while and answered slowly, “Hard to say, but it’s something like 857.  We have lots of doctors in town with way too much stuff.  We call them Crapaholics, people addicted to owning things.  But I think they’ll pare down soon and help lower the average.  Some people with a jar of aspirin count that as one item, others count each tablet plus the cap and bottle.”

“Speaking of aspirin, we’re going to your Mayo Clinic today,” Apollo said.

I felt the rush of heat in my face and wondered how obvious it was.  I tried to keep my voice calm.  “Don’t have a headache, do you?” I asked calmly.

“No,” Artemis said.  “What would they do if I did?”

I babbled something like, “Amputate, I guess.”  What else could I say?  “While you’re there, stop by the gift shop and get a genuine GlowCat.  They were first developed right here at Mayo, but you need to shine a UV light on them.”  I knew immediately that was a stupid thing to say, and fumbled for my wallet.

“No one buys the old fluorescent animals any more,” Apollo said.  ”And we already have a CatBulb that glows in the dark, thanks anyway.”

I paid for my milk and cat food, and excused myself brusquely.  As I hurried out, I stepped carefully over several sleeping bags just outside the door.  I handed one rousing sleeper a package of energy bars and headed for city hall.

Later I told the fire chief, “We can’t prevent troubadours from going anywhere they want, but no one has to tell them interesting places to go.”

Chief put his hand on my arm and whispered, “Maybe they’ll just visit the Clinic and write a feature song.  You know, Mayo was famous in its day.  Could be they’ll sing about its glorious past.”  I knew that wasn’t true.

Politics and Science Collide…Again

Donald Trump declared to astounded Republicans today that “George Washington was no hero!”

“He lost all those battles!” Trump yelled, frothing at the mouth.  “I like winners!  Even Benedict Arnold won battles!”

In other news, apparently starting up your own pharma company doesn’t guarantee success.  But it could be worth a try (1).

In scarcely related news, an Alzheimer clinical trial is under threat since USC poached researchers Paul Aisen et al. from UCSD (2).  “Aisen has headed the Alzheimer’s disease Cooperative Study since 2007 and is running a clinical trial to determine if a drug developed by Eli Lilly can slow or prevent Alzheimer’s in people who do not yet have memory problems.”

“Who cares about Alzheimer’s patients?” screamed Donald Trump as he writhed on the ground.  “They’re idiots!  Just ask them what they had for lunch yesterday – they don’t know!”  At this time it is not clear who landed the first punch in the ensuing melee.  Possibly someone who recalled that The Donald’s own father died of Alzheimer’s (3).  “Teletubbies are killing your children!” Trump’s voice cut through the pile.  Everyone who had launched themselves onto the stage stopped and sat up.  “Yes, you heard me right!  While they watch some pink triangle, the winners of the world are honing their boxing skills (4)!”  The right-wing lunatic fringe crowd burst into cheers and hoisted a jubilant Trump onto their shoulders in a victory lap around Iowa.






Hard to Find Good Help

“How could we possibly make such a guarantee?” Calligrafa Corbin asked.  “We are an excellent clinical research organization with a stellar track record.”

“I am sure you are,” said Rupert.  “And so was Hoptuit or whatever they’re called.  Until it wasn’t.  All it took was one rogue technician who fabricated data.” [1]

Calligrafa paled.  “I suppose someone had to be the first one prosecuted under the Good Laboratory Practice Regulations.  We do not intend to be the second.”

Rupert frowned and swiveled in his chair.  He glanced at the walls, at the ceiling tiles, at the untouched bagels and coffee in the corner.  He could not look Calligrafa in the eyes.  “That’s what worries me.  You might settle for third.  Second place might go to a company so bad that it finally went out of business overnight.”

Calligrafa began to tremble.  “Oh.  You mean PRACS?”

“I mean PRACS.  That’s just a renamed Cetero, the lab flagged by the FDA as generating fraudulent results. [2]  What gets me is that when PRACS disappeared, they wiped out maybe 40 studies. Those were run for the big boys.  You know, Merck, Glaxo, Gilead, Ranbaxy.  Much larger than we are.  We can’t afford a fraudulent clinical trial.”

Calligrafa let go of her pen so it would stop tapping frantically.   It skittered across the table and escaped to the floor.

Rupert leaned back in the soft leather chair and gazed at the ceiling.  “I hate being the bad guy, but it seems Eisai has the right idea.  They appointed an enforcer, someone whose job it is to make sure that Phase III trials do not fail.  This enforcer will reach into the CRO actually running the trial.” [3]  He sat up and forced himself to stare at Calligrafa.  “So will we.  We don’t like failure either.  For any reason.  Not during the trial, and not after.”

Calligrafa gulped and jammed her hands together.

Rupert swiveled to stare out the window of the conference room.  “I do not intend to end up showing preposterous so-called data that show our superdrug for muscular dystrophy is no better than placebo.  I don’t intend to dress up the statistics just to fool the rubes.” [4]

“That puts us in an impossible position,” Calligrafa said.  “You want all of your drug trials to succeed but you of course want no fraud.  We can fight fraud with the strictest enforcement, but how can we guarantee every trial succeeds?”

“Well, there’s that,” Rupert said.  “Oh, look at the time.  I really must run.  We will speak further of this.”  He stood up and strode out of the room.


That evening at the charity ball, Betty Lidalot felt a tingling sensation that alerted her to an approaching threat.  She whirled away from a very surprised movie star in mid-sentence to face Rupert still three feet away.  When she saw his shocked expression, she carefully lowered her karate stance.

“Rupert, so good to see you,” she said.  “My new SpiderSense gown, do you like it?  I had it made specially by Victor Mateevitsi.”

“Um, it looks very, um, technical,” Rupert said.  He rubbed his chin.  “Who is Victor Macchiavelli?”

“Mateevitsi.  He’s an engineer so I hooked him up with the finest fashion talent.  Now women can sense approaching danger as well as Spiderman can.”

“But Spiderman is a fictitious character.  He senses danger only when the author tells him to.”

“Rupert, you are such a bore.  Now can you tell me how the CRO meeting went?”

Rupert’s face brightened.  “It went very well.  I had them sweating and quaking in their shoes.  You would have been proud of me!  We don’t need any fraudulent results discovered after our drugs are on the market.”

Betty’s smiled and held up her wineglass.  “That’s wonderful news!  So there will be no more failed clinical trials?”

Rupert picked at something in his eye.  “Um, yes.  About that.  Well, I really must be going.  Way past my bedtime.”

“Rupert Madasheck, what is this all about?” Betty hissed.  Several ballroom dancers skirted away to clear a space around them.

“First there were placebos,” Rupert moaned.  “Now we have nocebos.”[5]

Betty frowned angrily.  “What is a nocebo?”

“We have to warn people in the trial of the possible side effects.  That seems to make people feel those side effects.  Even if we give them sugar pills.”

Tune in again when we ask:

  • Can giant error bars be ignored as long as the drug treatment line appears better than the placebo line?  Even if those error bars overlap?
  • Can Eisai’s enforcer guarantee no Phase III trial failures?
  • Can Calligrafa guarantee her CRO will never compromise results?
  • Will Betty’s SpiderSense threat-detecting gown catch on in fashionable

Funding Gets a Kick in the Pants

Rupert gets a call from crack(ed) fundraiser Frida de Thirteenth, who has a great idea.  “Surely you have heard of Kickstarter?” she says.  “Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals can raise money for drug development and clinical trials.”

“But Kickstarter is where people donate, not invest,” Rupert says.  “It’s enough to start up and do some limited project.  Who would just give us millions of dollars for a clinical trial?”

“Frida understands your confusion,” says Frida.  “That’s why KickPantser exists.”

“Ki – What kind of name is KickPantser?”

“KickPantser is to sustain an ongoing concern through gifts,” Frida says.  Cappuccino must donate millions to a central funding organization.  They in turn give grants for development and clinical trials.  To Cappuccino.”

“Hmmm…” Rupert ponders the idea.

Episode 28: Vivian Visits (Part 1)

I don’t want to do this,” Vivian Spitfire thought as she leaned out of her Beetle Cabriolet 50s Edition and her finger reached for the CALL button.  Her mind reeled from the spinning thoughts of looming unemployment, her jealous ex-boyfriend with a mean streak, her own horror, and the medical crises that swept over her.

She felt very small in this Malibu enclave filled with rich people suing each other over everything and nothing.  Her eyes swept up to the wrought iron fence ten feet ahead with its sign that proclaimed ‘MadaShack’ and barred her way.  A gentle voice said, “Speak, friend.”

Vivian leaned towards the speaker and said, “Hi, I’m Vivian, here to see Maybelle Madasheck?”  The gates of the iron fence swung towards her with a soft whisper.  She drove into the circular courtyard and around the bubbling fountain to the large double doors of iron-banded oak.  The gates swung shut, cutting off her urge to flee.  She half expected to see a liveried servant appear to open her car door, but the courtyard remained silent.  “Well,” she thought, “it’s showtime.”  She inhaled, put on a pair of glasses, and stepped out of the car.

Minutes later, she sat in the Madashecks’ drawing room and wondered how anyone could draw there.  She saw no desks or tables, and it looked like no place for an artist to wield a brush.  The furniture resembled a museum display, yet she set off no alarms as she sat on a delicate antique from another continent and another century.  Still, she feared that any movement would cause the flimsy construction to splinter and drop her to the thick Persian carpet.

Maybelle sat in a much sturdier overstuffed Morris chair, breathing hard.  “I must say, you did give me a shock, my dear.  I am not at all sure from where, but I have indeed seen you before.”  She looked over Vivian’s shoulder to her own computer screen in the next room.  Vivian’s face bounced gently around the screen.  She thought of Vivian’s other face bouncing around Rupert’s computer screen in his own separate office.  “How did those screensavers get there?” she wondered.

“I know Rupert,” Vivian said, “but I do not think we’ve met before.  I started my own software company but I’ve almost run through my own funds.”  She thought of the box of Me&Ro 18 karat gold Indian diamond drop earrings that Rupert gave her long ago.[1]  “Now I need more funding so…I visited.  I was recommended to your consulting firm, called for an appointment, and here I am.”

Maybelle said, “We have some time before Rupert sneaks in.  He drives a Tesla so he will just suddenly appear at any moment.  So tell me what brings you here.  I believe I suspect, but I’d rather hear your story than speculate.”

“Do you suspect?” Vivian asked.  She lifted her glasses, then dropped them back on her nose.  “Ah, it must be the blue blood.  Oh, there it is, some red heat.”

Maybelle felt color rising up her cheeks.  “What do you mean?  What red heat?”

Vivian took off her glasses and held them up.  “These render the world as a heat map.  Cooler temperatures are blue, and hot things are red.”

Maybelle sat back in her chair and crossed her arms.  “I’m sure that’s very clever, my dear.  Is this your invention that you want to sell?  Do you need my advice on marketing?  All well and good, but what is this business about Rupert?  He knows nothing about marketing.”

Vivian pulled a glasses case out and held it for Maybelle.  “If you watch the human face, you see the same thing.  Normally blue and green for calm and collected people.”

“Oh, well, that’s different,” Maybelle said.  “A cute party trick.”

“And red as people flush.  You know, when they lie.”

Maybelle froze.  “Could.  Could I.  Could I borrow a pair?  I might have a use for these.”

Vivian relaxed.  “Yes, I’m sure you might.”


“Hooray, I made it home without the car running out of juice,” Rupert said as he came through the kitchen door from the garage.  “I think the secret is not to drive a Tesla in a blizzard.  The New York Times and Tesla’s executives should keep that in mind next time they want to get into an argument about car performance.  Is the housekeeper here?  I saw some kind of car in the courtyard.”

As Rupert stepped into the drawing room, his face lit up.  “Vivian,” he said with scarce-concealed joy.  “I never thought I’d see you again.”  He broke off when he realized that Maybelle sat in a chair by the door.  She had a long riding crop in her hand, and she sat between him and the only exit.

“Rupert,” Maybelle said, “do join us.  I was just having a chat with Ms. Spitfire here.  A delightful woman of business.  She tells me that she admires you as a man of business.”  She smiled.  Rupert smiled.  “Monkey business.”  She smiled.  Rupert didn’t.

“I must recommend my new optometrist to all my friends,” Maybelle said as she turned to Vivian.  “I can see so well in the…heat of the moment.”  She turned back to Rupert.  “Ms. Spitfire has some matters of business, some questions to ask you.”

“Who’s my mother?” Vivian asked.

Rupert said, “Why, Eimagoinne Comatosa, of course.  Now she calls herself Emma.  Just Emma.”  He blinked twice.  “Yes, I knew her so long ago.  Why do you ask?”  He looked at Maybelle and her riding crop.

“And who is my father?”

Rupert stuttered and stared at his hands, then looked at the doorway and at Maybelle’s riding crop.  His eyes flickered towards the window, then back at his hands.  “Um,” he said.

Maybelle looked at the riding crop she held tightly.  “You used to like this.  Very much.  Does it bother you now?”

Rupert narrowed his eyes.  “Are you threatening me with that stick?  Why?”

Maybelle petted the riding crop gently.  “Threaten?  No, no.  I’d love to tell our guest how much you like this.  Shall I?  Or can you tell us who is Vivian’s father?  Perhaps there was some ‘youthful indiscretion’ involved, hmm?”

“Um, yes,” Rupert said.  “Youthful indiscretions were made.  As they have been and always will be.  It’s the human condition.”

Maybelle and Vivian gazed at Rupert for a moment.  “Ah, Mr. Blue-blood, admit nothing,” said Maybelle.  “Have any indiscretions been made lately?”  Rupert began to turn red, but did not answer.  Maybelle asked, “Would any indiscretions involve Vivian here?”

Rupert turned so red that the heatmap glasses nearly burned out. “I didn’t know we were related!” he shouted.

“So,” Maybelle said, “there were some indiscretions, Mr. Redface?”

Rupert’s face went blank.  “Redface?” he asked.  Silence.  “Mr. Redface?  Is that the father who wouldn’t go to Canada with you during one particular Spring Break?”

Maybelle gasped.  “No.  He was Mr. Redfern. Horace Redfe-”  She clapped a hand over her mouth.

Rupert glared at her and went on. “How about the Aussies who serenaded you with a song they called ‘Bouncing Matilda’?  Shall I sing it for us?”

Maybelle made some strange vocal noises, then popped something into her mouth.  She looked up and saw both Rupert and Vivian staring at her.  “It’s my. It’s medi-meh-medicine,” she said.  “Called Sirna ShuttheFoxup.”

There was a pause of silence and Rupert blinked.  “Called what?” he asked.  “Fox as in shut up Fox Ne-”

“Fox as in Foxp2 protein,” Vivian said.  “Don’t you keep up with the news?  Foxp2 is the language protein.  Shut down production and you become less talkative.”

Maybelle turned bright red.  “I believe it helps me not say regrettable things.”  She held up a capsule.  “This is filled with nanny particles.”

“Nanoparticles,” Vivian said.  “It beats the original work, needle injections into the brain.”

“Ugh.”  Rupert scratched his head and spoke carefully, a word or two at a time.  “So, if you stop this, um, Foxp2, you don’t talk as much.  Can you turn it up?”

Vivian looked at him warily.  “Yes, you can take Sirna FoxPlease for the opposite effect.  Why?”

Rupert squinted and looked around the room.  “Does the CIA know about this?”

Maybelle roared.  “The CIA or somebody knows about this.”  She held up a large photo of Rupert and Vivian sitting on a balcony.  “Tell me more about these not-so-youthful indiscretions.”

Rupert said, “Helicopter,” and thought of the National Guard helicopter that buzzed his apartment in Silverlake.  His not-so-secret apartment.

“Helicopter,” said Vivian as she thought of her jealous ex-boyfriend.

“Helicopter,” said Maybelle as she thought of the helicopter that buzzed the MadaShack during the Malibu Fire/Mudslide/Earthquake.[2]

“It might seem indiscrete, but I was getting re-acquainted with my long-lost daughter,” Rupert said. “Nothing more.”

“Nothing more, Pinocchio?” Maybelle asked.  “I believe I’m seeing red.”

“Certainly nothing more than your own visit with that Horrible Redface guy who popped up again not so long ago,” Rupert said.

Rupert did not need heatmap glasses to see Maybelle turn red.  She said, “Horace Redfern stopped by to apologize for his own indiscretions back in our college days.”

Vivian saw two very bright red people through her glasses.  “Well, I call it a draw here,” she said.  “I see indiscretions on everyone’s part.”

“Well, they were long ago and they weren’t as bad as our recent Marketing department debacle.  I had to sack the whole lot of them.”  He slumped into a chair and muttered.  “Alcohol does strange things to people’s judgment.  And vodka seems to be the worst.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Vivian Visits, coming soon!

[1] See Episode 4 of the Rupert Files.

[2] Episode 4 of the Rupert Files.

Episode 23: What’s In a Name?

Rupert Madasheck was not the only CEO in the club’s cherrywood paneled room that day.  Gazing up into the distance at the crystal chandeliers, he eased himself into an overstuffed chair next to fellow CEO Gjioughneh Kqueuerillieux.  As he glanced around the room at the executives lounging at the Jonathan Club, Rupert asked Gjioughneh how things were going.

“Terrible,” Gjioughneh said.  “We were just informed that the PMA for our OctoPlex gel was rejected.”  Gjioughneh stared down at his folded hands and sighed.  “I just don’t understand it.  You can’t ask for better clinical trial outcomes.   It’s been on the market outside the US for a decade.  The manufacturing profile is top notch.  What else do they want?”  His fingers gnarled around each other in a knot.

“What exactly does this, um, this Octomom do?” Rupert asked.

“OctoPlex, not Octomom,” Gjioughneh said without looking up.  “It lessens the pain from failed surgery, particularly botched jobs to relieve Restless Third Leg Syndrome.”

“Oh, yes,” said Rupert.  “The syndrome that’s not just for congressmen anymore.  There’s surgery for that?”

“As a last resort,” Gjioughneh said.  “The drugs available for it just can’t stop all the scandals, so people need to take drastic surgical measures.  But surgery has a lot of problems and high chance of lifelong pain.  Too bad there’s a political angle.”

At the word ‘political,’ Rupert hunched his shoulders as if leaning into a rainstorm.   He remembered the never-ending stream of politicians sending lewd photos of themselves to would-be mistresses.  “Don’t tell me Congress wants your gel all to themselves.”

“No, it’s worse.  Congress wants to save money by cutting funding to the FDA.  So they are retaliating to make the House of Reprehensibles feel the pain.  We really believe the rejection is bull,” Gjioughneh said. “I’ve decided we’ll file a petition for reconsideration.”

Rupert looked up with a startled expression.  “You could do that?  Won’t it just annoy them?”

“We’re going with the ‘creates jobs in the US’ angle.  Once we get approval we can put a dent in the unemployment rate.”  Gjioughneh’s eyes glazed suddenly in rapt attention and he pulled out his vibrating YouPhone.  After fumbling for a second, he held it to his ear and said, “Gjioughneh here.”

Knowing that cell phone use is frowned upon at the Jonathan Club, Rupert looked away and twiddled his thumbs patiently while Gjioughneh listened to his call.  Should he edge away and leave Gjioughneh in peace?  Should he pull his own phone out for a quick game of Sudoku while pretending to work?  Would Gjioughneh be escorted to the floor with the phone booths?  Before Rupert could decide, Gjioughneh put the phone down.

“Rupert, I want to get out of this business,” Gjioughneh said.  “Turns out the FDA denial was based on the fact that no one at FDA could figure out how to pronounce the name of our company.”

Rupert’s eyebrows shot up.  “They couldn’t pronounce ‘FzGnque’ so they rejected Octomom?  I can’t believe that.”

“OctoPlex.”  Gjioughneh shook his head sadly.  “You’re close.  It’s pronounced ‘FzGnque.’  But it’s true.  They were too embarrassed to contact us.”  He frowned and looked around the room.  “We can change our name to FrzeuQ if they want.  And who are they to complain anyway?” he added.  “Is it ‘FDA’ or the FDA?”

Yes, this story was inspired by an actual news article.  Brownie points for finding the original source! –      The BixoBrat

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