Two weeks along the Dayton Riviera. A maid. Room service. And the gift of time to write. Applications close Oct. 6 for A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program.
You’re always there for the most important things. Weddings, reunions and any time I have a speech.
Bulging, nearly bursting, yet slightly underground. I’m 41 and after all these years you still come around.
I know I shouldn’t try to cover you up after poking and pinching and prodding you to pop.
No cover up, powder or sandblaster can make you go away. No, no, no. If there’s a special occasion, you’ve got a prime spot on my face.
It’s always a surprise to see where you’ll settle in, but I can always trust that it will be my forehead, nose, or chin.
Oh, Adult Acne, you’re just so god da** stealthy! What a clever, ironic, puss-filled pal.
Courtney is the Corky (writer) of the Gnat & Corky Series. A collection of children’s books that just got picked up for publishing. You can read more from her blog KEEP YOUR SOUL @corkywrites or visit www.courtneykoloski.com.
I, for one, don’t bring it up because I fear that if my friends’ pantry experiences don’t line up with mine, our relationships will be tested.
But, I can no longer keep these pantry thoughts to myself, and I ask that, if you’ve never experienced pantry misery, to refrain from commenting because like any other sort of misery, pantry misery loves company.
My years of pantry experience have proven that the pantry is complex indeed. Sure, it appears as a simple shelved structure, but what goes on in there during any given week is mysterious, moody –a weekly drama that unfolds before our eyes (mainly because the kids never shut the pantry door).
We do the weekly shopping, come home and put everything away. The cereal and cracker boxes are lined up, tallest to shortest. Canned goods are all facing the same way and grouped by contents. Pastas are organized by shape. And the chips? Well, they never last long anyway, so it really doesn’t matter where we put them. And when we are done, we are so pleased with our pantry’s appearance that I, with great hope, proclaim, “Now that’s a pretty pantry; let’s keep it this way. Everyone put things back where you found them and we’ve got this!”
Then, the metamorphosis begins.
Perhaps my pantry proclamation is not specific enough, because my intense pantry study and observations this week, starting from our shopping day through the six days until the next shopping day, reveal some bad habits that may stun some, horrify others.
You’ve been warned.
Day 1: I observe a few scattered Goldfish crackers on the pantry floor. Conclusion: Someone (and we won’t mention any names but they know who they are) grabbed a handful of Goldfish and dropped some and did not pick them up.
Day 2: A few boxes were put back in the wrong place. At least one is empty or has 2 ½ crackers that escaped the inside bag and are sitting stale at the bottom of the box.
Day 3: The plastic wrap box is placed on top of the canned goods. At least one snack bag is not folded and clipped shut. Someone still doesn’t know how to open the granola bar boxes. And, the rice is now in the cereal box line up.
Day 4: Who put the can of black beans on top of the now smooshed bread? A cereal box is on its side. Rice and Goldfish are swimming together on the pantry floor. Someone (again, no names) tried to hide their favorite snack behind the surplus of peanut butter jars –one of which has a convenient tasting sample on the outside of the jar.
Day 5: The canister of oatmeal fell on me when I opened the door. The open bag of quinoa is in an empty fruit strip box. Wait. What? The jam from the fridge was put on the canned goods shelf. Cereal boxes are on the pantry floor. Some kibble has joined the bits of rice and Goldfish crackers also on the pantry floor. The tortilla chips were left open and they’re stale. A tall person put the pistachios that we eat daily with the stash of extra condiments on the top shelf. Hmm, let’s play what doesn’t belong?
And on the morning of Day 6: My son opens the pantry door and says, ”Sheesh, it’s like a black hole in here. He looks perplexed as he quickly shuts the door (because HE NEVER SHUTS IT). My daughter opens the door and says, “Hey, where are my granola bars? And, yuck! This bread is moldy!” My husband takes one look and says, “Stop complaining! There’s plenty of food in here! Somewhere? But, I think I’ll grab something to eat at work.”
And finally, when everyone leaves and I’m getting ready to start working, I pour a cup of coffee and head straight to my secret stash of dark chocolate which is not anywhere near the pantry. I continue with the day, avoid the pantry at all costs, and look forward to Day 7 when the pantry is once again pretty, at least for a little while.
Melissa Jablonowski is a mother of two who writes about midlife, motherhood and more. She, like Erma, also firmly believes, “When humor goes, there goes civilization.”
My wife, Sue, considers me a strange bedfellow, which is why it took both of us to drive up to our hometown of Stamford, Conn., disassemble a bed, load it into a rental truck, drive it back down to our house on Long Island, N.Y., unload it, deposit it in our living room, disassemble a bed in an upstairs bedroom, bring it downstairs, load it into my car, drive it to our younger daughter’s house, go back home, bring the first bed upstairs and reassemble it in the aforementioned bedroom. All of this involved headboards, footboards, box springs and mattresses.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
And I didn’t even mention that more furniture, including a kitchen table and a set of chairs, was involved.
Fortunately, it didn’t happen all in one day. Also, we had help. And we are grateful to Sue’s mother and sister for their generosity (and, in the case of Sue’s sister, physical assistance) in giving us, respectively, the bed and the kitchen set.
Still, for someone my age (old enough to know better), it’s hard work, which I have always tried to avoid.
This is the best time of life because you can still do everything you have always done, but if there’s something you don’t want to do, you can pull the age card.
“I don’t think I should be lugging furniture anymore,” you might say to no one in particular, because no one in particular will listen to you.
Sure enough, it fell on deaf ears. And those ears belong to Sue, who pretended not to hear my feeble excuses (hernia, heart attack, death) about why we could live without all the exertion.
I must say, however, that we are a good team: Sue’s the brains, I’m the pawn. So we joined forces to get the job done.
The worst part of bedding against the odds involves: (a) mattresses and (b) stairs.
The mattress of one of the two beds has handles; the other doesn’t. With the former, at least you have something to grab hold of; with the latter, you have to try to grasp the smooth edge and lift, pull, push, slip, slide or, if you are not careful, drop it down an entire flight of stairs. Or vice-versa, though it’s impossible to drop a mattress up a flight of stairs because it will only slide back down with you holding on, handles or no handles, until you both crash to the floor.
It’s not that a mattress is heavy (any Olympic weightlifter can hoist one for at least three seconds before EMTs have to be called), but it’s definitely unwieldy. That is why Sue and I had so much trouble navigating each of them, not just up and down stairs, but around corners, over railings and past a wall full of family photos that include one of me when I was a baby (it was taken last week).
Then there are the headboards and the footboards, which are meant to be dropped on your head and your foot, respectively. These not only are unwieldy but are approximately as heavy as a full-grown rhinoceros, without the horn but with posts that can do just as much damage if they hit you in the wrong spot. After one such near-catastrophe, I was lucky I didn’t have to go to Vienna, either for medical treatment or to join the Boys Choir.
Finally, Sue and I got the first bed upstairs and put it together, a herculean feat that called for several infusions of cold beer.
That night, we collapsed on our own bed. It was the best night’s sleep we ever had.
— Jerry Zezima
Questionable personalities everywhere. Well after all, not every neighborhood can be abundantly blessed with people as perfect as we were.
’Twas truly a hood for strugglers. Broke most weeks. Trapped. Cursed by fate, there we resided, confined among the “certified” in a luxurious trailer park, where the chief status symbol was new tires for the house.
Call it a cosmic force thingy, call it a fact: Kookie people gravitate toward each other. The big mystery? In the marching band of life, how did everyone but us-uns fall out of step?
The bloke who dwelled two doors down with his mate, Myrtle, called himself Murpho. He played the fiddle; she played the accordion. After a sample concert, my wicked wife affectionately but secretly nicknamed the couple Sharps and Flats.
Sharps and Flats shared the unique misfortune of both being nonsexual masochists. They desperately sought humiliation from others. As fate would have it, my bride and I both identified as nonsexual sadists. A perfect quartet? — Not.
What snagged that setup was the fact that my wife and I were not the run-of-the-mill sadists. We were true sadists. We insisted upon being exceedingly nice to masochists and, much to our glee, it simply drove them ding-batty.
Sharps and Flats’ desire to be publicly humiliated chiefly manifested itself in their pretense as wannabe hillbillies. It was weee dogie this and weee dogie that and on and on like Ma and Pa Kettle. All this was rendered somewhat less obnoxious by the odd fact that they looked a lot like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Once on a night of desperate loneliness, we showed up at their door and were surprised by a big sign: “If yur uninvited or unexpected, ya’all is also unwelcome. Go away!”
Meant to incite hostility and punishment, the sign prompted compliments from us: “What a clever greeting,” I said. My bride’s lips dripped with her special brand of insincerity-syrup as she felt Flats’ garment: “That’s a lovely burlap outfit, dearie. Matches that leathery skin of yours to perfection.”
We complimented their cuisine, including the stench of kidneys boiling on the stove, but we lamented aloud that we had become (instant) vegetarians. We heard a manic swashing from the executive toilet. We discovered Sharps washing their dishes in the bathtub.
“Murpho! Turn down the water! Company’s here!” Flats yelled. Then turning to us she said, “Fun fact about that bathtub.”
Myrtle then related how Murpho hated taking a bath, that he had “tubba-phobia” — a severe fear of falling down drunk in the tub. To conquer that, she reported that he habitually crawled into the tub, never standing up, passed out as he soaked and eventually came to, crawled back out and weaved his way to a comfier bed.
Having always suspected that there must lie a pharmaceutical explanation for his eccentricities, I discovered my assessment was close. Sharps soon pulled a flask from his hind pocket and offered me a swig. Seemed glad when I declined. Turned out he was swilling down 200-proof corn alcohol.
Sharps winked as he claimed that he drank under only two conditions: “alone or with somebody.”
Having emptied the flask with two more gulps, he launched into a bawling jag. What prompted it? The memory of a brilliant Johnny Rogers’ football play from the Nebraska-Oklahoma Thanksgiving game of 1971.
Flats explained: “He so emotional. He cried once at a K-Mart opening.”
Suddenly, Sharps sniffed, quivered his lips, then wailed: “Is Anyone listening to me? Oh, I hope Someone is listening to me. Because I already KNOW thishh.”
Yup, the boy boozed it up a bit. Once when Flats was away visiting “kinfolk,” I heard something that sounded like the proverbial torturing of a moose. I noticed a police car parked outside the couple’s house at midnight.
Strolling by to see what was happening, I saw two cops, staring into the couple’s window, laughing hysterically. Sharps, drunker than a hound dog chasing two skunks, was wearing earplugs and bellowing off key at the top of his lungs.
When he spotted the cops, he yanked off the earplugs, blasting the air with Willie Nelson’s rendition of a darling little ditty titled “Mule Skinner Blues.”
So, that was Murpho and Myrtle. Two of my all-time favorites. Sweet entertainment for us newlyweds and now for sweet strolls down memory lane.
Oh, when the couple found out through the hood grapevine that my bride had nicknamed them Sharps and Flats (in honor of their musical “talents”), Sharps loved the new handle.: “It also honors my mind — Sharp”
Sharp, indeed. Sharp as a mitten filled with jello — but oh so charming.
— Steve Eskew
Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.
My mother has always been my Go-To Girl. My Chief Advisor. My One-Tell. For as long as I can remember, almost everything I’ve ever experienced in my life was viewed and evaluated through the prism of my mother’s perspective.
Remember those elastic bracelets people wore years ago that said “WWJD?” (What would Jesus do?) I wondered what Jesus would do, but I’ve also spent a lifetime wondering “WWMD?” What would Mom do? Or think? Or say?
This might be a good time to admit to my closest friends that every time they told me a secret and I promised to keep it, “cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” I never actually stuck that needle in my eye, even though I always went straight to my mom with their confidence.
Any time anything happened, no matter how minor or mundane, I always began a running narrative in my head telling mom all about it. And that’s assuming I didn’t call and fill her in immediately.
-Whether I bought something on sale (“Remember that blouse we saw in Nordstrom…”)
-Whether I ran into someone (“You’ll never believe who I saw today…”)
-Anything and everything her grandchildren said or did (“Tommy said the cutest thing, we were sitting at the dinner table and…”)
Nothing was too insignificant to mention:
“I ordered the chicken!”
“The hotel was gorgeous!”
“I had the worst headache!”
Our mothers are our very first listeners.
And I was blessed to tell mine so many wonderful things like, “We’re engaged!” “I’m pregnant!” “We bought a house!” “I’m published!” and a few not-so-good things, the most awful was, “He said you’ve got Leukemia” and a few months later, “They said there’s nothing left they can do…”
Like all matriarchs, my Mama loves our family lore:
“Remember the time Dad parked the Winnebago on the beach at Padre Island and the tide came in while we were asleep? We woke up the next morning to the serene sounds of waves lapping tires and realized we were surrounded by ocean…”
“Remember traveling back to the U.S. from the Army base in Germany, after Dad had his heart attack and we couldn’t get a taxi to make our connection in Philadelphia? (No one seemed excited to transport an Army Wife traveling alone with her 3 “Brats.”) As you tossed our luggage on top of an unsuspecting cab, you shouted at us kids to jump in, leaving the cabbie no choice but to take us!”
“What about the time I threw a paper airplane in class which my teacher intercepted, unfolded and wrote a note on – requesting your signature? You took my plane, unfolded it again, inserted it in your IBM Selectric and proceeded to type your own note informing the teacher how proud you were that I was preparing for a career in Aeronautical Engineering!”
My mom was a sassy one, but she had it a little bit wrong that time. The paper airplane episode didn’t indicate that I was destined to become an Aeronautical Engineer, just that I was destined to be a bit of a mischief-maker who acted up, talked too much and would stop at nothing to make people laugh.
I did, however, follow in her footsteps to become a sassy mother.
These days my mother and I have entered a new phase of talking, listening, laughing and crying. Her tiny body is indeed spent from the fight, yet still she yearns for a few more significant insignificant days to give her children her undivided attention.
And we will fill this time with tales of hilarity courage and that inexplicable force called mother-love. The wonderful and trivial, peppered here and there with a story about someone else’s drama or something fabulous we found on sale.
It is, after all, what Mom would do.
— Leslie Blanchard
Leslie Blanchard is a wife of one and mother of five, who writes the blog, A Ginger Snapped: Facing The Music of Marriage And Motherhood. After she received a journalism degree, she became the “Wind Beneath My Husband’s Wings” and didn’t write anything for 27 years, except her family’s Christmas letter. All that changed with the invention of the iPad with a waterproof cover. Now, she lays in the bathtub all day, neglecting her other responsibilities, and writes about life outside the tub. Her essays are titled after songs because, as she and her hubby puzzle through a marriage or child-rearing problem, they sing the song that particular issue reminds them of (with a pertinent lyric change here or there).
Any woman who writes humor will eventually be compared to Erma Bombeck. Let me be clear: there was only one Erma Bombeck. Just like there was only one Johnny Carson.
They were expecting Erma and they got stuck with me. My mother placed great significance on the fact that my first newspaper humor column appeared on April 22, 1996, the very day that Erma died. But that column had been written a couple of months before it was printed, so Erma’s talented spirit had nothing to do with it. The column was titled “Spending money on weight loss only makes wallet thinner.” If you’d like to read my first column, click here.
Life just seems to hit me over the head with funny incidents I encounter in my daily life, and it would be foolish not to record them. I do think my Jest for Grins columns improved over the years. Take, for example, one entitled “Plea to roadkill: stay on the road!” that was written 10 years later when I hit a huge owl and unknowingly drove it all over town. Click here if you’d like to read that one.
I hit the owl after I had earlier hit a chicken. You know the old joke about why the chicken crossed the road? My favorite answer to that question is “To show the possum it could be done.”
But the chicken I hit couldn’t teach the possum anything. It stood by the side of the road watching me drive down the highway toward it at 55 miles an hour, then launched into the air right in front of me, failing to gain altitude. I think it had a death wish. You may read “Why, oh why, did that chicken cross the road?” Click here if you wish. Then there was the squirrel I tried, but failed, to straddle. Poor little guy, he went left, then right, then left. I ended that column with the hope that Squirrel Heaven was long on nut trees and short on automobiles.
Come to think of it, I don’t recall Erma ever writing about being a serial killer of critters. If she never hit a critter and left it as roadkill, she was fortunate; if she did hit one, she was smart enough to not write about it. And that’s just one of the differences between Erma and me.
So, dear Erma, there will never be another like you. I hope you rest in peace. And I hope all the critters I unintentionally manslaughtered do as well.
— Marsha Henry Goff
Marsha Henry Goff is rich in family and friends who provide much material for her columns and website postings on www.jestforgrins.com. Fortunately, they believe — as does she — that life, though serious, should not be taken too seriously. She has written nine books, including two compilations of humor columns, six histories and Everything I Know about Medicine, I learned on the Wrong Side of the Stethoscope.
(This piece appeared in Sharon Short’s Literary Life column in the Dayton Daily News on Sept. 10, 2017. Reposted by permission.)
Thanks to a generous gift from comic novelist and writer Anna Lefler, the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is offering a new program, “A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck |Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program.”
Two emerging humor writers will have the opportunity to dive into their comedy writing at the Marriott at the University of Dayton without the interruption of everyday responsibilities, explains Teri Rizvi, founder and director of the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
Writers selected for the inaugural residencies will receive a free registration to the April 5-7, 2018, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop as well as travel, hotel and meal expenses for a two-week experience of a lifetime. The Marriott at the University of Dayton is an in-kind sponsor for the program.
Online applications are due by midnight (EST) Oct. 6, with the winners announced Dec. 4. The program is open to all aspiring humor writers regardless of gender or comedic point of view. The application fee is $25. All entries will be blind-judged by preliminary and finalist judges, all established writers.
“The premise of the program is to give a creative boost to writers who do not yet have the benefit of a milestone achievement such as a traditional book deal, a sold script or the like,” says Teri.
The program is being underwritten by Los Angeles-based author Anna Lefler, author of the humor book, The Chicktionary, and the humorous novel, Preschooled. Anna has taught or presented at the last three Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshops (2012, 2014 and 2016) and will also be at the 2018 workshop.
Anna explains that she worked as a crisis communications consultant before marrying in her 30s and starting a family. Shortly after that, she began pursuing a long-held desire to write. She started by writing a humor blog, connecting with a writer’s group, and learning from feedback, she says. Her first book deal, The Chicktionary, came as a result of her blog.
“I’ve loved Erma Bombeck’s writing since I was in middle school,” Anna says. “I still remember attending my first Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop conference and finding myself seated at the banquet with Mr. Bombeck, his and Erma’s children, and other faculty. I thought, Wow — I grew up in Houston and read about this family sitting up in the tree in my parents’ front yard and laughed my face off at their antics — and now here I am sitting with them in real life! It’s still one of the highlights of my career.”
“I’ve observed how the Bombeck workshop is a magical experience,” Anna says. “I realized how lucky I’ve been to juggle parenting and writing, and know it would be difficult to add a full-time job or other responsibilities to that mix. I also know that when I was able to say ‘I am a writer,’ that changed my life. So I wanted to give back to the workshop and to writers.
“I wanted to provide a way for writers to take a step out of the pressure of their regular lives and live like a full-time writer, without the financial pressure,” Anna adds. “This program is a way to honor Erma and her legacy, to give back and help other writers, and also for a selfish reason — I want more humor out there, humor that doesn’t necessarily hinge on current events or politics, but observational humor, as Erma wrote, that everyone can relate to.”
As part of the residencies, the two winners will write funny essays about their experience living and writing at the Dayton Marriott for the workshop’s blog and meet with University of Dayton classes to discuss the writing journey.
For more information about the writing residency, visit http://www.humorist-in-residence.com.
— Sharon Short
Sharon Short, executive director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, has written the coming-of-age novel My One Square Inch of Alaska (Penguin Plume); two mystery series; and a collection of humorous essays. She is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant, a Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts and Cultural District Literary Artist Fellowship, and was the 2014 John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Sharon is also the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News, an adjunct instructor at Wright State University, and is part of a fiction manuscript consulting group, The Write Sisters.
According to Zezima family legend, which goes all the way back to last week, my wife, Sue, is so proficient at chopping down trees, bushes and other massive flora that she is known far and wide as Paula Bunyan.
I, her faithful companion, am known even farther and wider as Jerry the Dumb Ox.
It was in this capacity, which otherwise is about a six-pack, that I was charged with hauling a mess that I was afraid included Audrey II, the giant plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” to the dump, where I met Teddy the Junkyard Dog.
This shocking example of horticultural horror began when Sue went on a chopping spree and took down several humongous growths whose stems, trunks and branches were roughly equal to those of a California redwood. And she did it not with a chainsaw but a hand saw, which is easier than using a seesaw.
When I saw, I said, “Who’s going to cart all this stuff away?”
Sue pointed the saw at me.
I refrained from making a cutting remark and dutifully dragged the whole thing to the curb in the hope that the Town of Brookhaven, New York, where I live, would take it away.
There it sat for three weeks until I got a letter that was headlined: “Notice before summons.” It went on to say I was in violation of a town ordinance by having litter described as “loose oversized branches” on my property. It also said I would be subject to “a potential fine and a possible misdemeanor charge” if I didn’t take care of it.
I called the Department of Waste Management and spoke with a very nice woman named Maureen.
“Look,” I explained, “I’m a geezer with a bad back and a history of kidney stones. I’m doing my best. Have mercy.”
Maureen was sympathetic and said, “I got one of those notices before I started working here.” Then she added, “You have to cut up the branches and either put them in containers or bundle them. It’s probably easier just to load them into your car and bring them to the landfill. If you’re a town resident, there’s no charge.”
Consoling myself with the thought that the worst things in life are free, I stuffed everything into the back of my SUV, which stands for Sequoia Utility Vehicle, and drove to the landfill.
That’s where I met Teddy, whom Jim Croce would not have described as “meaner than a junkyard dog.”
“He’s more like a teddy bear, which is how he got his name,” said his owner, Nancy Blomberg, adding: “It’s a very exciting day. This is Teddy’s first trip to the dump.”
Teddy, a terrier mix who was born in Puerto Rico, seemed to take it in stride.
“He’s a rescue,” Nancy said. “He’s 6 or 7 years old, I’m not sure and he’s not telling, but I’ve had him for a year and a half.”
Teddy, who was sitting in Nancy’s lap on the passenger side of a 2003 Chevy pickup truck, gave me a high paw through the open window.
“Woof!” I replied.
Just then, Nancy’s friend Micky McLean, who had been hauling stuff out of the back of the truck, came around and introduced herself, saying she is a former Marine.
When I told her I’m a newspaper columnist, Micky said, “I thought so when I saw you interviewing the dog. What’s the matter, the Marines wouldn’t take you?”
“The Marines have standards,” I said. “They’re looking for a few good men, and obviously I’m not one of them.”
Micky, who served honorably from 1977 to 1986 and is now retired, asked if I needed help unloading the branches from the back of my car. When I gratefully accepted her kind offer, she got her trusty cultivator, which is a three-pronged rake, and in the span of about seven seconds cleaned out my trunk.
“Next time, cut down the trees and bushes yourself instead of making your wife do it,” Micky commanded.
I saluted and said, “Yes, ma’am!”
At that, Teddy barked.
“He’s a dog,” Micky said. “He knows something about trees and bushes, too.”
— 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.