Moe paced nervously outside the meat locker on the second floor of The Sun building.
"It's Thor," he said. "He has locked the door and refuses to come out."
Thor and Moe are the two enforcers that The Sun keeps on hand in order to encourage good citizenship.
If you have ever paid for just one newspaper, for instance, but have taken more than one from a newspaper box, Thor and Moe are the guys who jump out of the bushes and beat a little good citizenship into your skull.
Once a year, Thor and Moe also serve as my Poetry Police, enforcing the rules of my poetry contest. So last week, when I kicked off my seventh annual contest, I once again called upon their services.
Tell Thor to come out of the meat locker and to bring his brass knuckles, I told Moe. The first entries have come in and a few people need a good working over.
"But that's the problem," Moe replied. "Thor has had a change of heart. He says he's a new person and he doesn't want to hurt people anymore."
"I have decided to become kinder and gentler!" Thor shouted through the meat locker door. "I heard a speech by George Bush and I have decided to become a point of light. I have rejected cynicism and pessimism. And I suggest you do the same."
If I rejected cynicism and pessimism, I'd be out of a job, you nitwit! I yelled at him. Now get out here and do what you're paid to do!
"I hate to be a stickler, but you don't actually pay us," Moe said. "You give us copies of the newspaper and you get them for free anyway."
"And you only give us Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday so we can read your column," Thor shouted. "What about the other days of the week?"
You mean The Sun publishes other days of the week? I said. Whatever for?
"A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing," Thor said.
I wish you'd stop eating in Chinese restaurants, I told him. You always come out sounding like a fortune cookie.
Moe tried to play peacemaker. "Just listen to him, Thor," he said. "Maybe he wants us to be different this year."
I certainly do want you to be different, I said. Rule One of my contest was that all the poems had to be either haiku or limericks. Yet the very first entry that arrived in the mail was this one from Daniel L. Hoag Jr. of Glen Burnie:
To save the state of Maryland
We must all make a great stand
We must all arouse
Rid the Senate and House
Find a new governor for our land.
"What's wrong with that?" Thor said.
Are you seriously asking me what's wrong with a guy who tries to rhyme "arouse" with "house"? I said. Trying to rhyme "Maryland" and "stand" was bad enough. So now I want you to go to this guy's house, throw a headlock on him and lobotomize the poetry center of his brain.
"Anything else?" Thor asked.
Yes, I replied. Another rule of the contest was that all poems had to be on the theme "What I Would Do To Save Maryland." But I get a poem from Paul Dhillon of Catonsville that goes:
Oliver North was
visibly moved by the
Pledge of Allegiance.
Firstly, that is not on the correct subject. Secondly, I don't get it. And thirdly, it is supposed to be a haiku, but a haiku must have a first line of five syllables, a second line of seven syllables and a third line of five syllables. And Dhillon didn't manage that either!
"I think I have an explanation," Thor said. "But it will require a long paragraph and I know how you hate long paragraphs."
That's because I know the attention span of my readers, I said. But go ahead.
"Have you ever heard the theory of parallel universes?" Thor asked. "In this theory there are entire worlds that parallel our own, but they differ ever so slightly. For instance, on one parallel world George Washington might have been defeated at Yorktown and so America is still part of England. Or maybe as a small child playing jacks outside his home in Austria, Hitler was eaten by a pig and there was no World War II."
Do they play jacks in Austria? I asked.
"In this parallel world they do," Thor said. "And in this parallel world maybe 'arouse' and 'house' do rhyme. And maybe haiku have different rules. And Daniel L. Hoag Jr. and Paul Dhillon are great poets. Perhaps the greatest poets in the world!"
That is entirely possible, I admitted. It is also entirely possible they were both hanged for stealing cars. But in this world, I want you to go out and rough them up. And I'll tell you why. This is an actual story from the Associated Press:
"BOSTON (AP) -- America's new poet laureate, Russian exile Joseph Brodsky, says the United States must become an enlightened democracy, and thinks making poetry more widely accessible would help.
"Brodsky said he wants the nation's major newspapers to print ** poems. . . .
'I see this position not so much as an honor but as a form of public service,' he said."
So you see, Thor, I said, by staying in the meat locker and refusing to enforce the rules of my poetry contest you are actually harming America. And George Bush would be very, very cross with you.
There was a brief pause and then the door of the meat locker opened with a creak.
"Since you put it that way," Thor said, "I will have to comply. Hand me my can of Mace and tell me the rules once again."
Gladly, I said:
RULE ONE: Haiku and limericks only.
RULE TWO: Enter as often as you'd like, but each poem must be on a separate postcard. Postcards only!
RULE THREE: All entries must be on the theme "What I Would Do To Save Maryland." Hint: About 85 percent of the entries so far involve the impeachment, exile or decapitation of our current governor. While I don't deny all these things might be fun, I am getting bored with this solution to our problems. Try something new.
RULE FOUR: Hurry! Contest ends real soon.
RULE FIVE: Winner gets a free, autographed copy of one of my books or the book of his choice as long as it doesn't cost me more than 20 bucks.
Or, if you can find a parallel world where you can fly to Hawaii for 20 bucks, you can have that instead.