Mark your calendars! The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop takes place April 5-7, 2018, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater.
I had to overcome my Twitter aversion in order to market the humorous real estate book I wrote because, per many social media gurus, it is the best social media platform (and least expensive, and quickest) for getting the word out about your service or product. There’s a reason Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s chief marketing evangelist for the Mac, maintains a follower base of 2 million plus and tweets up to 10 times a day.
So when there’s a simple way to get followers on Twitter, something you can do just once (or better yet, have someone else do it) and have it keep working for you, I must share: it’s your banner.
The banner, aka masthead or header, is the first impression you make and is almost as important as how often and what you tweet. To engage followers you need to look follow-worthy, and you do that with an image and words that speak to people — that show you have common interests and that following you will be interesting.
Unruffle those feathers! You do not need to create the banner yourself. There are several services (I used Fiverr.com) that will do that for you for about $25, and the result will fit Twitter’s size parameters. If you’ve authored a book, include a picture of it. Don’t worry, though, if you don’t have a book (it won’t be conspicuous by its absence); just tell the designer that you want some graphics to indicate that you write. If you have a cause you’re passionate about and you want to put it “out there,” include a relevant logo (if permissible) or some reference to the issue. The more avocations or interests you display in your banner, the more diverse a follower base you’ll attract. Think about what kind of audience you want.
In my instructions to Fiverr I said I needed a colorful, upbeat Twitter banner that would appeal to book lovers, business people, and those who like to read positive, inspiring quotes. I wanted to identify myself geographically, so I included a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you need ideas, look up other authors’ Twitter pages and see what they did.
As the great philosopher Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is showing up.” A great banner will ensure that you show up well.
— Cathy Turney
Cathy Turney is the author of Get 10,000+ Twitter Followers — Easily, Quickly, Ethically. Her humorous tell-all about the real estate sales industry, Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success, won the American Business Association Stevie Award for Best Business Book of the Year in 2015. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, tweets at @CathyTurneyLafs, blogs at www.CathyTurneyWrites.com and emails at Cathy@CathyTurney.com.
It is imperative that men understand that they are not like women, no matter how much they would like to be. The difference can be dramatic. This is not meant to be judgmental. Merely an observation.
FACT: Men borrow their wives’ cuticle scissors to cut the hair in their nose. That is considered all right. When the same wives use their husbands’ razors on their legs, the men get hysterical.
FACT: Women are well informed in many areas and will offer to share their knowledge whenever necessary and — occasionally when it is not. Men care mostly about sports, business and Heidi Klum. If any other conversation is brought up, they begin to snore.
FACT: Men complain if they have to wait 15 lousy minutes for a woman to get dressed. Yet, my friend is still waiting for her guy to come back with bread he went to buy. It’s been two years. Fortunately, she is on a gluten-free diet so she’s patient.
FACT: We encourage our men to communicate with us. They encourage us to get laryngitis. (“Bella, sleep with the windows open. It’s good for you.”)
OBSERVATION: It is not impossible for a man to accomplish the task of being equal to women. There are probably some jobs that they might do as well. And if so, they absolutely should be paid as well, too.
FACT: There is a congenital difference. It is the hormone factor, not a reflection on character, but the burden of being male. Yearly, they experience “that time of the year.” Symptoms include yelling, screaming and bursting into tears. The most latter is the saddest to witness. I have seen it happen in the best of families, including my own.
That is why I am considerate and loving during that difficult time. I recognize that it is a part of maleness.
It happens every time their football team is defeated.
The anguish continues during each instant replay or recap and is intensified every time I accidentally mention the losing score.
I believe women should not flaunt their natural superiority at this time. Instead, each in her own way should exhibit love and affection during her man’s “seasonal.”
Remember, men do get teary. So when they do get teary, try a little tenderness.
— Jan Marshall
Jan Marshall is an author, humor columnist, certified clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker. She established the International Humor & Healing Institute in 1986. Prominent physicians and other board members, including Steve Allen and Norman Cousins, shared her techniques for healing through hope and laughter. She also has created and hosted two television series. Steve Allen was her favorite guest, and she became a regular nag/humorist on his syndicated WNEW radio show. Her first book, Still Hanging in There: Confessions of a Totaled Woman, is still available at Amazon and www.barnesandnoble.com. Her satirical survival book, Dancin’ Shmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What!, is available on Amazon.
I could totally see myself wearing yoga pants and signing for UPS packages while my husband was at work and Disney Junior blared in the background.
Instead, I live on a remote cattle ranch 2 1/2 hours from town and one hour past mail delivery. Amazon Prime and cable cartoons don’t apply to my life. Even though I grew up in the country, sometimes I think I’m not cut out for the unusually large amounts of dirt, wild animal encounters and solitude that is provided by my life as a cowboy’s wife. I want my children to be clean for longer than the duration of their baths. I want to see a tarantula never, instead of on my bathroom floor. I want to have a friend besides the windmill.
I dream of having real electricity. We live off the grid, so when the power goes out, I must get out of my warm bed — sometimes during a freezing rainstorm — and feel my way along the walls to locate a flashlight, find my husband’s boots, then brace myself for the final step.
“Here, take these and go start the generator,” I whisper as I shake Jim’s shoulder.
“Why? It’s the middle of the night.”
“I might want to make some microwave popcorn.”
“We don’t have a microwave.”
“I might want to watch TV.”
“We don’t have cable.”
“I might want to read a book.”
“Use your flashlight.”
If I lived close enough to other humans to have real electricity, I could probably also have someone to visit with besides my husband. I’m tired of meeting for coffee with the family dog and a windmill. The dog always has gas, and the windmill never holds up her end of the conversation.
I want to know what it’s like to buy bananas and have them arrive at my home bright yellow and unbruised. I wonder what it’s like to brake smoothly at the stop sign on the corner rather than shift into four-wheel-drive in order to make it through the cow pasture on my way to town. I yearn to own a house key and lock my car upon each exit. I want to walk outside my house in my nightgown to wave at the garbage man and embarrass my kids, not chase the bulls out of the front yard.
I could definitely envision myself driving a shiny SUV that has never seen a speck of dirt. Maybe a newer model in cobalt blue. In actuality, I do drive an SUV, but it’s a ’95 Jeep Cherokee. The paint job is flawless, but you’ll have to take my word for it, because it’s usually covered with dirt. It has a CD player and power nothing, but driving it makes me feel like Indiana Jones.
Shopping online with free overnight delivery is probably overrated, anyway. Playing in the dirt helps build my kids’ immune systems, and I keep reminding myself that tarantulas are harmless. At least the windmill doesn’t spread gossip (she’s not THAT kind of mill).
Plus, out here I have plenty of room to practice my off-road driving skills. Once I got the feel for four-low and made it through a few monster mud puddles, I realized that I could never hack it as a suburban housewife. Next time I see a giant arachnid in my house, I’ll just channel my inner Indy and crack a bullwhip at it…while screaming for my husband to come kill it, of course.
— Jolyn Young
Jolyn Young lives in a remote camp on the O RO Ranch in northern Arizona with her cowboy husband and their two small children. Just like more urban homemakers, she spends her days feeding, cleaning and entertaining kids. Unlike her suburban counterparts, she deals with vastly larger quantities of dirt and occasionally runs outside to chase bulls out of the front yard in her nightgown. Her humor column, “Desolate Ranch Wife,” is currently carried by publications in Nevada and Arizona. To read more of her writing, visit www.jolynyoung.com.
The older I get, the more medical specialists I require to stave off complete deterioration. I’ve begun attracting marketers for hearing aids, orthopedic appliances and long-term care, so it seems everyone wants my body but not in a good way.
This year’s Grand Tour of Infirmities began with the dermatologist. I have an unusual number of freckles so there’s a lot of real estate to check for skin cancer. And, no, that was not a fat joke. Examining mole borders, symmetry, and color variations is exacting work; still, my dermatologist got the better deal because she got to keep her clothes on.
Her office is on the 22nd floor, so the medical staff leaves the window coverings open with little worry about privacy. I, on the other hand, like a little mystery when stripping down to my undies and a paper garment in front of an open window. My first task was to close the blinds, possibly to the disappointment of Mr. Lonely in the high-rise two blocks away who was hoping for something young and nubile during the next appointment.
I strategically repositioned my tissue-paper gown as needed, preserving as much modesty as I could, which for the record was zero. But I abandoned all hope when the doc asked me to stand so she could examine my back. The breeze told me I was completely hanging out so at least she had easy access.
Consumed by embarrassment, my mind wandered to what would happen if the office caught fire. I weighed the pros and cons of possible escapes including (a) succumbing to a fiery death because I’d rather die than run outside looking like this, or (b) trying to escape wearing half a paper dress and finding a new dermatologist because I can never face these people again.
Meanwhile, the doc noticed white patches on my torso and pronounced a new diagnosis: vitiligo, Michael Jackson’s disease. Unfortunately, it did not endow me with Michael’s signature dance moves, which might be a blessing because I can’t afford to break a hip.
The next test on my agenda was a mammogram, an annual ritual for women of a certain age. This required me to insert the most sensitive part of my anatomy, one breast at a time, into a clear plexiglass vice while the technician tightened clamps and I cried for a meteor to release me from this hell.
Radiologic technicians undergo specialized training to master these Jaws-of-Death devices, learning to compress with gusto to a point just shy of outright amputation, and to do so with a relentless cheerfulness that makes us suspect their motives.
After the mammogram had been completed, it was on to the gynecologist for more cancer screening, probing, and a thorough discussion of stuff that was none of his or anyone else’s business. Once again, the required garb was a disposable tissue-paper assembly, worn open in the front so why bother.
His exam table was short with metal stirrups, and I was directed to “scoot down” to an edge I could not see — an exercise in trust because one false move would lead to unsightly flailing, a monumental thud, and certain hospitalization. On the bright side, all my laughing about it answered the doc’s question about stress incontinence. So there’s that.
This year’s medical agenda completed, it’s almost time for me to schedule next summer’s tour de force: the routine colonoscopy. Everyone’s favorite part of this two-day ordeal is drinking a vat of vile-tasting prep and blowing out the contents of your large intestines until you have nothing left to lose. Literally nothing.
Then, you glide into your doctor’s office starved out of your mind and several pounds lighter. During the procedure, the gastroenterologist uses a camera-equipped hose to inspect things inside the body that human eyes were never meant to see — that’s why they’re inside — via a route never intended as an entrance.
This humiliation is so great that I avoid all eye contact during the transaction. I’ve gone to the same gastroenterologist for 20 years and I barely know what the man looks like. I’m counting on him not recognizing me in the grocery store, either.
— Mary Kay Fleming
Mary Kay Fleming is a psychology professor at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. Her personal essays appear in These Summer Months and the upcoming In Celebration of Sisters anthologies. The winner of the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition for global humor, Mary Kay writes humorous essays to maintain a rather tenuous grasp on sanity.
I was a t-ball coach for two seasons and quickly realized my child would benefit from me not being her coach.
I made this mental note when I had a dad rush out to the batter’s box in the middle of a game, push me aside and correct my coaching of his 5-year-old daughter; a sweet little girl who wanted nothing to do with baseball, but loved dandelions. When she would bat, I would simply say, “Do you see the ball on the tee through that big helmet?” She would nod and I would ask, “What are you gonna do to it?” and she would yell, “Crush it!” That was our thing. That’s what you do to a ball on a tee when you’re a ferocious Tiger!
My style was simple, considering I had nose pickers, dreamers, plane watchers and dandelion blowers — my absolute favorite kind of people! My coaching strategy was to have fun, inspire them, and give lots of praise. We painted our faces to be fierce like the tigers we were. We had treasure hunts to try to learn the bases — my one goal for the season. We caught water balloons. We learned songs to shout from the bench, and we cheered each other on, no matter what.
One of the best parts for the kids was whatever the snack was. The best part for me was watching them do something they didn’t think they could do and seeing their faces light up with pride and confidence. The fact that I witnessed that in all of them was a treasure I found and will never forget. It was all very simple, and for me, the ideal age and time to be a coach, because all too soon the sideline “coaches” step in with screaming, shouting, badgering and bullying that shatters the simplicity and joy out of it all.
I’m too emotional and mouthy to be able to withstand that. I’m too sensitive. Too stuck to my convictions, and I knew eventually I would cave to a lower level and be one of those people who ended up on the news with a bench-clearing brawl I started because I went after a sideline “coach” like a wild, cracked-out boar.
Therefore, I want to take a moment to give a nod to all the brave people who have continued coaching and volunteering their time, energy, passion, sweat and a little piece of their soul to organized sports. It’s not an easy gig. My husband is one of those people. He genuinely cares for every kid on his team. He’s not perfect, but he’s the one who volunteered and shows up for his team time and time again. He’s the one who calls the shots. Whether he blew it sending your kid home or not, he’s just trying his best after a full day of work, car trouble, trying to find pairs of baseball socks, stripping out of a full suit, stopping for gas, scarfing down a piece of cheese and coming in hot to the ballpark to inspire every kid to just have fun and try their best — win or lose.
As I sit on the sidelines amongst a smattering of sane and insane parents. I have constructed a playbook that I’d like to share with some of you sideline coaches that might help suppress or a least guide your next outburst.
4 TIPS TO BECOMING A GREAT SIDELINE COACH
(Everything you need to know you can learn from a t-ball player)
1. BLOW DANDELIONS: Before you move closer to the playing field to step in and offer advice, tips, tricks, or how you would have, could have, have, did when you were in high school, or any other sideline coaching tip, see if there is a dandelion nearby. Blow your hot air toward the dandelion and make a wish for your child to make it pro. Now, go find another one…
2. LOOK UP IN THE SKY: When you feel the need to stand behind the umpire to ensure the 80-pound 13-year-old boy who barely fits in the pads is making the right calls, look up in the sky for airplanes. If the bars of a facemask obstruct your view, you are an umpire. If not, you are an embarrassment.
3. PICK YOUR NOSE: You might feel the urge to pick the lineup, shout out what positions kids should play, or even step in and pitch for the coach who is trying to lob in strikes to a three-foot frightened 7-year-old. Instead, take a moment to shove your fingers up your nose, feel around up there and try to find your brains. If you reach them — wow. If not, keep searching until the game is over.
4. DREAM: If you feel the urge to scream, berate, embarrass, harass, demean or shame your child when they make a mistake, stop for just a moment and try to remember how much you dreamt of becoming a parent one day.
Thank you, coaches, for your time and effort in just trying to get a kid to see how much potential, possibility and magic they have inside — no matter what kind of curve ball comes from life’s sideline.
— Courtney Kotoski
Courtney Kotoski is a professional writer and creative director. She’s the author of 16 children’s books in the Gnat & Corky series, a collection of universal stories that are based on the spirit of real kids (@gnatandcorky). You can follow her Keep Your Soul blog or visit her website to read her stories.
When I’m not writing humor, I spend my time chatting with celebrities and sharing their stories. So heading off on a ’70s theme “Rock and Romance” cruise seemed like the perfect way to combine business with pleasure while fulfilling a teenage dream of hanging out with rock stars. But like everything else, the devil is always in the details…
Forty years ago, my idea of prepping for a rock star moment would have involved a search for the perfect lip gloss and mini dress. This time I was pondering more complex questions like, Can I lose 20 pounds in two weeks? How fast can I bleach my teeth without causing them to fall out? And can you brush off a hot flash moment by blaming it on the Mexican sunshine?
But in addition to my own extreme makeover, I had another fish to fry before setting sail. Unlike my life in the ’70s, I would have a date onboard, and he would need more than a life jacket to stay afloat in the sea of rock. I’m not complaining about my husband, because no one’s perfect and he’s pretty great. But throwing a guy who has never played air guitar onto a ship full of Grammy Award-winning rockers seemed like a recipe for disaster, especially when his suitcase was stuffed to capacity with khakis, striped polo shirts and a beloved fanny pack. Talk about man overboard. I was between rock and a hard place.
“Thank goodness there will be ’70s theme dress-up nights,” my friend reminded me, hopeful that donning bell bottoms or a leisure suit would level the playing field for my non-rocker.
Of course that would be a tricky tradeoff, given that any purchase of retro thrift store garments would reinforce his long-held belief that he should never have caved to my demands to toss the original polyester items in the first place.
Wardrobe aside, my partner of 29 years has never been in the music zone. He’s mistaken Elton John for Billy Joel. His karaoke rendition of “My Way” has been making everyone go the other way since 1980-something. His taste in music is more elevator than rock, and the only thing he’s ever smuggled into a concert is a set of ear plugs.
I took a deep breath and found comfort in the facts that my husband was game for the adventure and I had a humor column deadline. Surely there are going to be some laughs when a Barry Manilow fan gets on an elevator with Peter Frampton.
But then it happened — great music, magical memories, rock and romance. Wonderful flashbacks from the past have a way of making everyone embrace the moment and celebrate their lives. So how on earth did two musical opposites end up in the same boat? Because I get to pick all of the tunes and he is absolutely fine with that. It took a boatload of music icons to remind me that the easy-going, Docker-wearing guy in the corner was my real rock star.
Did my husband generate any chuckles when he rubbed elbows with rock legends? Were my oversized sunglasses enough to hide the lines from a life well-lived? Actually, we fit right in. Growing older has a way of putting everyone on the same stage of hits and misses, and when you’re lucky, chart-topping success. The best part of life is having something to sing about, even if you can’t hit the high notes.
In case you’re wondering, older rockers look a lot like older non-rockers, but without the khakis. And thanks to midlife, I can honestly say I was totally hot when I hung out with them.
— Dr. Nancy Berk
Nancy Berk, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, humorist and entertainment columnist for Parade Magazine’s Parade.com. Her next bucket list item involves tambourine lessons and a Fleetwood Mac reunion tour.
There are many reasons for a man to be proud of his grandchildren, as I am of my three, who are beautiful, smart, loving and, even though the eldest is only 4 years old, more mature than their grandfather.
Now I can add one more reason: My grandson, Xavier, at the tender age of 4 months, is a Three Stooges fan.
I made this delightful discovery recently when my wife, Sue, and I took a road trip to visit Xavier, who lives with his mommy, Katie, and daddy, Dave.
The moment of revelation occurred on a sunny morning in Katie and Dave’s bedroom, where I was watching Xavier while everyone else got ready for a day of fun, frolic and, of course, infantile behavior. And I’m not talking about Xavier.
Anyway, I was upstairs with him, cooing and babbling (so was he), when Dave entered the room and said, “Having some guy time?”
“We sure are,” I answered.
As Dave left to go back downstairs, he said, “If I hear any Three Stooges noises, I’m rushing right back up.”
Answering the challenge, I did my award-winning Curly imitation, snapping my fingers and making funny faces as I exclaimed, “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!” and “Woo, woo, woo!”
Xavier smiled and started to wave his arms and kick excitedly.
I told him that many years ago I was first runner-up in the National Curly Howard Sound-Alike Contest (I won $100 and some Stooge paraphernalia in the telephone competition, whose winner was never identified and must have been an inmate somewhere).
I also told him that I once attended a Three Stooges convention in Pennsylvania and again was first runner-up, this time in the Curly Shuffle Contest, which was won by a 4-year-old girl.
Xavier furrowed his brow as if to say, “Poor Poppie. What a knucklehead!”
Then I imitated my favorite Stooge, Shemp. I inhaled deeply and made the famous Shemp sound: “Ee-bee-bee-bee!”
Xavier — this is absolutely true — laughed out loud. I did it again. He giggled uncontrollably.
“I am so proud of him!” I said to Dave when he rushed back upstairs. “Xavier loves Shemp!”
Dave, a wonderful young man with a terrific sense of humor, kindly refrained from poking his father-in-law in the eyes.
“The surest sign of maturity in a man, if indeed it ever happens, is when he comes to appreciate Shemp,” I told Dave. “Xavier is starting at a young age.”
Just as the late, great original Stooge has a new fan, so does the new fan.
“Xavier is my little man,” said Junior Bush, who lives across the street and is known as the mayor of the neighborhood.
Junior, 73, a retired revenue collector, doesn’t have kids of his own, but he does have 10 nieces and nephews who look up to him as a father figure. Everyone on the block loves him.
I found out why when Junior knocked on Katie and Dave’s door to warn me that my car would get ticketed and towed if I didn’t move it for the street sweeper.
“I’ll give you my parking space,” Junior said.
I found the lone remaining spot across the street, so I didn’t have to take up Junior on his nice offer, but I appreciated it.
“I love Katie and Dave,” Junior told me. “And Xavier is just the cutest.”
“I’ve been teaching him about the Three Stooges,” I said.
Junior chuckled and replied, “You have to start them early.”
Despite Dave’s fears, I have. Every time I did my Shemp imitation, Xavier laughed. At least a dozen times over the next few days, whether he was in his car seat, on the changing table or in my arms, when I said, “Ee-bee-bee-bee,” he let out a baby guffaw.
The next time we get together, I am going to introduce Xavier to Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp and the other Stooges on video. Will he love them even more?
In the immortal words of Poppie doing his Curly imitation, “Soitenly! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!”
— Jerry Zezima
Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows Best, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
(Editor’s Note: The following essay is an excerpt from Ritch Shydner’s book, Kicking Through the Ashes: My Life as a Stand-up in the 1980s Comedy Boom. Posted by permission of the author.)
From 1984 to 1991, I was on The Tonight Show about a dozen times.
Even after getting to panel on my fourth appearance I wasn’t a lock to be called to the couch. That was okay. I wanted his approval but never felt as comfortable with Johnny Carson as I did with David Letterman. This was strictly my problem. Plenty of comics my age rolled with Johnny, but to me he was a father figure. Growing up, my Dad and I had an adversarial and sometimes violent relationship. Later he felt my choice of a career in comedy was a mistake. I just couldn’t get loose with Johnny.
My dad saw me perform a few times early in my career and never had anything to say. One night, I did the whole show about him and he left without saying a word. He never called after any of my Tonight Show shots. The only thing he ever said about my chosen profession was, “What you do is tough. If they don’t buy the insurance I sell, I can say they didn’t like that insurance, but if they don’t laugh, they didn’t buy you.” Not really a ringing endorsement, but in my family, acknowledging your existence was as close as you might ever get to a compliment.
I got sober in 1985 and made amends to my dad for a lot of things, including wrecking his cars, the fistfights, and shooting at him while hunting. Three years later he got sober and came to California to clean up his side of the street. Afterward, we hugged and cried but there remained a gap between us.
During a 1989 Tonight Show appearance, I was told right before walking onto the soundstage that there wasn’t enough time for panel. I tossed the disappointment and did my job. Feeling loose, I walked out and did a quick gunfighter pose before I started my set. It’s something I did in the clubs from time to time. Three people might get it, but that was fine. I guess it was my version of Don Rickles’ metaphor of the stand-up comic as bullfighter. The gunfighter, confrontational and suspicious, covered my relationship with the audience and the world at large.
After finishing my set, instead of acknowledging Johnny and walking for the curtain, I did a little more of the gunfighter. I pulled my jacket back with my right hand, assumed a gunfighter stance and backed slowly to the curtain, while scanning the audience for trouble.
A baffled Ed McMahon asked Johnny, “What’s he doing?”
Johnny laughed. He said, “He’s doing a gunfighter.”
The next day my dad called me. “That gunfighter thing you did really cracked Johnny up. You know what? You’re really good at this.”
No call ever meant more to me. There’s this old Southern expression, “You’re not a man until your daddy says you’re one.” When I was young, I saw my dad making people laugh and my friends even said he was funny, but I didn’t get it. He closed the gap that night. We’ve been laughing together ever since.
— Ritch Shydner
The author of Kicking Through the Ashes: My Life as a Stand-up in the 1980s Comedy Boom, stand-up comedian Ritch Shydner has made numerous guest appearances on late-night TV, played Al Bundy’s co-worker on Married with Children and written for Roseanne, The Jeff Foxworthy Show and HBO’s The Mind of the Married Man. He was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop “Humor Writer of the Month” in August 2017.