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Mark your calendars! The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop takes place April 5-7, 2018, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater.

Putting a spin on aging

When spending time with female friends, there almost always comes a point in the conversation when one of us criticizes some aspect of her looks.

This is usually followed by one of two strategies: either the rest of us protest vigorously that, in fact, the woman in question is the most gorgeous creature alive, or else we offer up detailed examples of our own hideous flaws, causing the whole thing to erupt into a frenzy of self-loathing. Then we eat. Lather, rinse, repeat.

On one recent occasion, the self-deprecator among us was upset about discovering new wrinkles, or maybe it was her increasing ratio of grey-to-brown hairs. This type of age-related complaint quickly led to the deployment of a strategy more timeworn than any of our faces.

“Honey, those wrinkles mean you’ve laughed, and the grey hair means you cared,” one of the more self-help-y of us exclaimed, secure in the knowledge that her statement was backed up by countless Facebook memes, inspirational posters and cross-stitched pillows.

Wow! Was that what those things meant? Here I’d spent all this time thinking that wrinkles meant there’d been a gradual breakdown in collagen and glycosaminoglycans in the epidermis, and grey hair meant a depletion of melanocytes in the hair shaft. Nope! Actually, it all just means that the wrinkly, grey-haired person is a wonderful, deeply fulfilled human being!

As I sat there listening to our friend receiving praise for her beautiful wisdom, caring and zest for life, I found myself starting to become annoyed. Because whoever made up that whole “wrinkles-mean-you’ve-laughed” list totally quit on the job early. Wrinkles and grey hair aren’t exactly the only signs of aging out there — in fact, they don’t happen to be my main genetic legacies. I come from dark-circle, turkey neck, elephant-knee people. And I’m noticing that absolutely zero noble personal qualities have been manufactured to explain these.I guess people like me have the worst of both worlds — we’re still starting to look old, but we’re just the crappy kind of old, the kind that hasn’t been earned through courage, wisdom and grace. We just kind of let ourselves go. Meanwhile, we witness our loftier counterparts having neurotoxins injected into their laughter and wisdom in order to do away with these sterling qualities. Huh?

Something is definitely wrong here. So, for people like me, I’ve developed a more comprehensive list of the altruistic and life-affirming traits at the root of some of these other pesky signs of aging.

1. TURKEY NECK means you have vigorously nodded YES to life, over and over and over again. You’ve pretty much never said no to life, like ever. Wordplay bonus: It’s called ‘turkey’ neck not because it resembles the wattle of a turkey, but because you are always giving thanks and counting your blessings.

2. AGE SPOTS mean you are such a unique and distinctive individual, you have begun to manifest your own sassy leopard print pattern!

3. VARICOSE VEINS mean you have stood up (for hours and hours) for what you believe in. It also means that your path to truth and self-actualization is mapped out beneath your skin like a beautiful atlas of your life experience.

4. “ELEPHANT ELBOWS” and KNEES mean you have been flexible and accommodating to others, and also that you know how to bend without breaking. Wordplay bonus: it’s called “Elephant knees” because, like an elephant, you never forget your many beautiful and triumphant life experiences (unless you also happen to have dementia).

5. BAGS UNDER THE EYES mean you have seen so much, and you have accumulated the wisdom of what you have beheld. They are called ‘bags’ because they are filled with the abundant gifts of your memories.

I’m hoping to develop this appended list of age-related virtues into a meme or pillow designed to provide comfort and empowerment to those who don’t happen to have signs of aging with positive P.R. spin already written for them. Unfortunately, I’m at a bit of a loss to invent anything inspirational about facial hair. Suggestions are welcome.

— Jennifer Byrne

Jennifer Byrne’s humor writing has been published on The New Yorker Daily Shouts & Murmurs, The Rumpus Funny Women, The Hairpin, The Second City Network and McSweeney.net. She lives in southern New Jersey, which, sadly, is nothing at all like New York.

Expat mistake number 561

I wasn’t feeling great. I get kidney stones. Over and over.

Finally caved in and put a post out to the local expat community for a doctor recommendation. One came well recommended.

I made an appointment and hunkered down the next 24 hours. About an hour before I was supposed to be there, I decided to check the address. Found him. Knew general area. But he was the wrong kind of doctor and had a different specialty.

I was looking for a family doctor and a referral to the next doctor. But I had an appointment with an ob/gyn. I had heard stories about these appointments. I was looking to avoid this experience. At all costs. But the Swiss medical community (or the U.S. for that matter) doesn’t appreciate a last-minute cancellation. I went. Figured it was same general area. And I was desperate.

He takes my medical history. Then he asks the $64,000 question, “Why are you here?” WHY am I there?  What’s an acceptable answer?  I confused you with  a general practitioner? It ‘s been a few years?  Bring up the kidney stones?  I opted for a hybrid of the the three. He doesn’t blink. But he does jot some notes down. I imagine them to be something like this…”appears confused, disorganized thoughts, drug seeking?” He then tells me where I can change but that he doesn’t use drapes.

This exam is “European style” (his words).  Look, I’m all good with European style bread (last roll had carrots in it) or European yogurt or architecture or painting.  But this, this may be too much.  I can’t speak for all American women, but I’m pretty modest. The thought of lying on the table without a gown  was making me want to throw up. How are you supposed to pretend you are dressed and anywhere but there?!

Horrifying. I took my opportunity to explain my feeling that  American women (I had to lump us all together in my bid for solidarity — I needed the support)  don’t appreciate this policy. I went on to suggest he buy a few gowns to keep on hand for us. He just looked at me and pointed in the direction of the exam room. Fine. Have it your way.

Five minutes later, he launches into an anatomy lesson. Please, when will this end?! Then a lesson on ovulation. We discussed this already. I have three (delightful) kids. I’m 46. I don’t care if I ovulate ever again. I don’t want to talk about it. Not today. Not ever. I don’t need any lessons. If I want to know something, I’ll google it or go on YouTube or the public library. Or something.

Mercifully, it ends.

He made me an appointment with another doctor for the kidney stone thing. Thoughtful. But before I go, I’m going to clarify it’s the right specialist. I can’t do this twice.  And I’m going to see about buying some drapes of my own.

Sometimes I really miss Connecticut.

— Jennifer Dziekan

With a background in education, which oddly seems to mean nothing when it comes to her children, Jen began blogging in 2012 when her husband came home and said, ‘Want to move to Switzerland?” Both Jen and the blog survived a three-year stint as an expat in Switzerland. Home in Connecticut, she continues to blog about everyday life.

Girl scout badges for boomers

If you were a Girl Scout in the ’50s or ’60s, remember the badges we earned (or didn’t, depending on our proclivities)? Most of them focused on traditional stuff like homemaking, sewing and cooking.

Well, we’ve come a long way, baby. So it occurred to me that we should be awarded an entirely different set of badges based on our achievements in midlife. Here’s a sampling of some badges we could earn and the tasks we must complete to do so:

Handling Hot Flashes: Demonstrate creative use of everyday items as fans or other cool-down devices (Example: bags of frozen peas placed under the armpits). Sit through a business meeting while having a hot flash without losing your composure or peeling off any clothes.

Memory and Cognition: List 10 phone numbers and 10 passwords without looking them up. Go an entire week without wondering why you walked into a room. Remain in possession of your car keys and eyeglasses for three consecutive days.

Entertaining: Plan, cook and serve dinner for eight people, each with different dietary restrictions including gluten-free, fat-free, vegan, lactose-intolerant, low-sodium, nut allergy, acid reflux and shellfish allergy.

Weight Management: Automatically awarded if your body mass index falls within the healthy range for your age, weight and height. Bonus points if you can fit into your (first) wedding gown and/or comfortably wear slacks without an elastic waistband.

Social Skills: At your next cocktail party, go a minimum of 30 minutes without talking about health issues and remember the names of at least two people you’re introduced to.

Sleeping through the Night: Successfully sleep for at least seven uninterrupted hours a night, at least five nights a week. Bonus points if you do so without medication.

Grooming: Remain vigilant for stray facial hairs, using a magnifying mirror daily to examine moustache area, chin and neck. If detected, pluck immediately. If entire moustache appears, bleach or wax regularly.

Online Dating: Be single. Post a picture of yourself that was taken within the past two years. Compose a profile that accurately reflects your current vital statistics and which doesn’t include the phrase “walks on the beach and romantic candlelight dinners.”

Medical Tests and Screenings: Undergo your first colonoscopy at age 50 and do not regale friends and family with details of your bowel cleanse. Undergo annual mammograms regardless of how busy you are. Know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers (but do not discuss them at cocktail parties).

Sexual Health: Have sex with your husband/partner on a regular basis (frequency to be mutually agreed upon). Bonus points if you really want to. Buy personal lubricant at the drug store without feeling embarrassed (bonus points if you can get your partner to do so).

Empty Nester: Allow yourself up to 90 days to emotionally adjust to having the kid(s) out of the house, if necessary. Find new uses for their bedroom(s) and remodel/redecorate accordingly. Do at least one thing you never dreamed of doing when your child(ren) lived at home.

Regularity: Consume 25 to 30 grams of fiber and adequate liquids daily. Move your bowels daily (and do not discuss their frequency or consistency at cocktail parties — or anywhere except your doctor’s office).

Physical Fitness: Undertake moderate intensity aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week, weight training two to three days a week, plus exercises for flexibility and balance. Nothing funny or clever here — just do it.

Grandparent: Feel justifiably proud to be a grandparent, but limit the number of photos you share with others to no more than six at one time. Please.

Cosmetic Surgery: If you choose to earn this badge (which you will, of course, not wear), your results elicit responses such as “You look so well-rested!” and not “You look so, um, wide awake!” or “Who did you?” Bonus points if you get carded the next time you buy alcohol.

And for all of us, here’s a more age-appropriate take on the Girl Scout oath:

On my honor, I
will try to get through midlife
the best way I can.

 Roxanne Jones

Roxanne Jones blogs at boomerhaiku.com, a mostly lighthearted, often irreverent look at life as a baby boomer, 17 syllables at a time. When she’s not tapping out haikus, she’s a freelance medical copywriter, enjoys chardonnay and contemplates plastic surgery to get rid of the wattle on her neck.

The kids are all right

When I became a grandfather almost four years ago, I learned that babysitting is child’s play: As long as you play with the child, are willing to do diaper duty and don’t confuse the kid’s bottle with your own, you can be a great grandfather.

But what would happen if you had two grandchildren — one preschooler and one infant — to babysit?

That’s the situation in which I found myself on a recent Friday, when Chloe and Lilly’s mommy, Lauren; their daddy, Guillaume; and their grandmother, who also happens to be my wife, Sue, all went out of town and left me, for the first time, to watch both girls.

Here is a record of the marathon.

5:30 a.m.: The alarm clock goes off and I bound out of bed, stubbing my toe on the radiator. I am off and limping.

5:45: Sue and Lauren finish packing. They won’t be back until Sunday. Guillaume, who already has been gone for three days, isn’t scheduled to return for another 12 hours. To show how challenging child care is, I am the only alternative. At least my services don’t cost anything.

6:15: Chloe gets up. We immediately start playing. This will go on all day.

6:40: Sue and Lauren leave for the airport. Bon voyage!

6:45: Lilly wakes up. I bring her downstairs in her Rock ’n Play Sleeper and wish there was something like that for adults. It would be great to drink beer in.

7:00: Chloe and I make a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage without burning the house down.

7:45: I give Lilly a bottle. It contains formula. (See 6:45 entry.)

8:30: Sue calls from the airport to make sure everything is OK. “I have to go,” I tell her. “The first responders are here.” Sue sighs and hangs up.

9:15: Lilly poops! She hadn’t done so for three days and her deposit is, to put it mildly, breathtaking. Not to be outdone, Chloe announces she has to go potty. Then Maggie the dog has to go out. The girls are firing on all cylinders.

9:30: While Lilly naps, Chloe and I amuse ourselves by running around the house and generally acting silly. It would be hard to tell who is babysitting whom.

11:00: I dress the girls, Chloe in a nice outfit Lauren picked out and Lilly in a onesie. I get dressed in a twosie (sweatshirt and sweatpants) but forget, I realize later that night, to brush my teeth.

11:45: Lilly has another bottle. This kid is starting to rival me in my college days.

12:30 p.m.: Chloe and I have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Chloe gets some on her new white sweater. I try to get it off with dishwashing liquid. Then I stick the sweater in the bottom of the girls’ laundry pile and hope nobody notices.

1:30: Since it is a beautiful day, all of us go outside. Chloe blows bubbles, Lilly enjoys the fresh air and Maggie marks her territory. Miraculously, nobody steps in it.

2:30: We go back inside and continue playing.

3:15: Lilly has yet another bottle.

3:30: Lauren calls to say she and Sue have landed and to see if we are still alive. I tell her that I am burping Lilly. I also tell her not to worry because I have everything under control. Then I burp. Lauren sighs and hangs up.

4:30: I put on Chloe’s favorite TV program, “The Mr. Men Show,” which is now my favorite, too.

6:15: Lilly gulps down her fourth bottle. Afterward, I change her diaper, which is wet enough to fill a kiddie pool.

7:00: Guillaume returns from his overseas trip but is too tired to eat and falls asleep in a chair. Chloe and I have leftover stuffed peppers for dinner. Then I give her a bath and put her to bed.

8:00: I put Guillaume to bed (he can take his own bath) and stay up with Lilly.

11:45: Lilly has a fifth. I have a glass of wine. Then we both hit the sack. It’s been a great day. Guillaume is impressed the following morning. So are Sue and Lauren when they get back on Sunday.

“The girls were as good as gold,” I tell them. “And I’m twice as great a grandfather as I was before.”

— 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 BestLeave 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.

It’s payback time, dear husband.

Yes, my handy hubby, someday soon you will accompany me to a place that strikes fear into the heart of many a man.  A place that can weaken the knees of the toughest guy.  A venue you’ve managed to avoid for years.

The fabric store.

When there’s a lull in our house projects, and you won’t need me to hold the plywood or hand you the drill or find the dropped nail, I’ll need you to be my helper for a change.

I think I’ll make curtains.

At the fabric store, be prepared to wander among row after row of bolts upon bolts of compelling colors and patterns.  We’ll do a quick walk-through, then a thorough inspection and comparison of dozens of possibilities.  Then we’ll repeat the process to choose lining material.  You may want an extra cup of coffee that morning.

We’ll need thread, too.  Of the hundreds of colors, it may take awhile to choose just the right one. Oh, and seam tape – that has to match, as well.  I may also want some new pins, needles, and tailor’s chalk.  Speaking of pins and needles, wear your comfortable sneakers.

I’ll ask your opinion and expect that you’ll have one, but of course, I’m the seamstress, so you’ll have to defer to me even if you really have your doubts.  Practice saying, “I think you’re right, Dear.”

And you won’t complain when I get particular because, after all, when I’m checking your dimensions on a piece of lumber, you’ll often ask me,

“Which side of the pencil line are you measuring to?”

And I have learned to answer without a grumble.

When I am ready to sew, you will sit on the bed next to the sewing machine, holding the fabric, so it doesn’t trail on the floor.  It will be a lot of fabric.  And a lot of holding.  You may want to think of some world problems that you can solve while you sit.

Don’t worry, though.  This entire curtain project won’t take too long – it’s just some straight seams after all.  Just a few hours, maybe.

NOT.  It will take a whole weekend, including evenings.

NOT.  Since I don’t sew that much, it will take several weekends, because you and I will have to rip out some very long seams after it dawns on me that I mismeasured.  Or pinned the pieces together inside-out.  Or cut them wrong.

In which case, we’ll have to go back to the fabric store.

And I’ll want you at my side, dearest Michael, so you can experience the joy of helplessly helping on a mind-numbingly tedious but ultimately satisfying project.

Some couples make beautiful music together.  You and I make handsome and enduring and inspiring house updates together.  And now we’ll include curtains.

I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.

— Karen DeBonis

Karen DeBonis blogs about her wild adventures as a homebody, including writing (aka avoiding housework), meditating (aka napping) and serving a nightly smorgasbord to deer and other critters in her yard (aka gardening). She lives in a wonderfully emptied nest in upstate New York with her husband of 34 years.

Zoo adventure

Do you think people from Africa ever run through our zoos saying, “Let’s go see the chipmunks!” “Ooh look! I think that’s a squirrel!”

They can’t be very impressed with a zebra, giraffe, lion or other animal that already roams freely in many parts of their countries. I always thought the strategic set up of our local zoo was pretty impressive, kind of like displays in a department store. One wants to put the most exciting items up front to draw in the consumers. At our local zoo, that exhibit is the giraffe house. Next to that are the big cats and around the corner the monkeys. They keep the more boring animals at the very back.

I wanted to take the children to the zoo one day and see if we couldn’t capture every last animal that we kept missing every year. I think in order to really savor the experience we would have to take a few days to do it. Being as it took about two days to find a parking spot, I was losing time just getting into the zoo itself.

After standing for an hour in the front, the line finally started to move. One of the children got his jacket stuck in the little turnstile. Ughhh, I said to myself. This is going to be a long day. Once we freed his jacket from the bars, I turned to all the children and asked, “Now, does anyone need to use the bathroom before we get started?” I know they have restrooms placed in various parts of the zoo, but I didn’t want to have to stop and gather all the kids when we could take care of the bathroom breaks right off the bat. “No” they all said as they began wandering off in all directions.

“Hold it! I want everyone to stay together so that we don’t — where’s Dina?” We weren’t even inside five minutes and I’d already lost a child. My little Dina was very independent and was already off doing her own thing. However, this was not going to be acceptable, especially since she was only three!

I caught up to her heading towards the giraffe house and gathered the brood all together once again. We all walked down the ramp and around to the Primates Exhibit. I was always fascinated with the big apes. The giant lowland gorilla just happened to be near the window when we arrived. We all held hands as we moved close enough to see. “You know, that animal could tear a man’s arm clean off,” I whispered to one of the children. As I looked down to see his reaction, I shuddered. “You’re not Cory!” I blurted to the little kid holding my hand. I don’t even know where this little kid came from! Why was he holding my hand and where was MY son? I unhooked myself from this little lad, still aghast at my “tear a man’s arm off’” comment and started running feverishly through the exhibit. I found my son on the other end near the baboons.

Once again, I had gathered all of the kids together and said, “Let’s go see the lions.” Now my daughter announced that she had to go potty. Of course she did. I had to go find the You Are Here map and locate the nearest bathroom (which happened to be the one back at the entrance). We all headed back to the bathroom. Once the restroom trips were all taken care of, I rounded up the troops and we veered this time towards the Pachyderm House.

As we passed the sno-cone and hot dog stands, the kids begin to whine. “We’re hungry,” they all sang in unison. “How about we go see the elephants first, then we can get something to eat.” “But I’m hungry now!” “Me too,” whimpered my oldest one. I sighed as I took my wallet out and began calculating how much it was going to be for hot dogs and drinks. The grand total came to around $22. These had better be hot dogs laced with GOLD for that price!

With their tummies nearly full and their bladders empty, we could now enjoy the rest of the day. Once again, I did a head count of the kids. “One, two, three — WHERE IS DINA?” Dina was down the hill playing with the geese. As I herded the kids into one manageable pile, I wondered if we were ever going to get to see the animals.

As we approached the Pachyderm House, a big sign on the door said “NO FOOD OR DRINKS ALLOWED.” Great! We had to all sit outside and finish our food before we could enter. Needless to say, getting three young children to finish a meal is next to impossible, but I was not about to throw $22’s worth of hot dogs into the trash.

Soon inside the Pachyderm House, my daughter began to exhibit signs of allergy. The large bales of hay or straw, combined with the overpowering smell of whatever that other noxious odor was, had my Erin coughing, sneezing and itching all over. I decided she couldn’t be in the enclosure any more so we all strolled outside — only to find it pouring with rain.

— Mari’ Emeraude

Mari’ Emeraude is a poet and humorist from Denver.

Glue do a St. Patrick’s switcheroo

It would appear that I’ll be whiling away my precious Irish holiday by playing St Patrick’s Day games with my grandkids. Everything from Shamrock Scramble to Kiss the Blarney Stone to Leprechaun Trap.

Had I practiced such untainted activities throughout most of my adult life on St. Paddy’s Day, my rap sheet would be miles shorter.

Need I discuss my history as a partier on March 17th? Hardly. It’s all been well-documented. In 16 cities and 11 states. Yup, until recent years, you could count on my name prominently fixated in the newspapers on March 18th, recounting the chaos I had drummed up.

I’m innocent, by blarney. It’s the Dublin-born Rory Regan who has led me astray year after year. He’s my best friend and worst enemy all rolled into 280 pounds.

Regan’s one of those Irishmen who can drink the town dry and still stay relatively sober. Meself, I’m a low-tolerance bloke. Booze grabs me in weird ways. Especially on St. Patrick’s Day when the acting bug suddenly takes a big bite out of me keister, and I inexplicably teeter through barrooms, pretending to become other people.

Or so I’m told.

I’ve no memory of it, but my wildest characterization must have been pretending that I had been born in China and hadn’t learned English until I was in my 20s. According to all reports, I swept about the bar speaking English with a heavy Chinese accent, rendering Regan mortified. Pity.

Actually, ’twas Regan’s moonshine whiskey during our St. Pat’s misadventure of 1998 that brought my St. Pat’s drinking career to a screeching halt. Prior to that year, at least I’d managed to confine my antics (and accents) to North America.

Regan insisted upon flying me to Dublin, Ireland. I can’t really remember much about the trip, but I can clearly recall the look on my wife’s face when she met our plane on March 18, 1998. Drenched in green, Regan was pushing me into the terminal in a wheelchair. Believe me, I was in no condition to walk.

For St. Paddy’s Day, 1999, Regan promised my wife faithfully that, not only would I not drink, but he himself would stay dry.

Regan kept his word. ‘Twas a no-hooch night all right. All I remember consuming were brownies, garnished with little candied  leprechauns.

After a few of those yummies, I noted that we were both in even livelier spirits than we’d ever been while downing moonshine all night. In fact, we simply couldn’t stop smiling.

“Rory, me lad, I wish you’d have baked these brownies when we were single because they make me feel so damn good-looking,” I simpered.

The more we munched away, the more we got the giggles. Since we were so joyful, Regan proposed playing what he referred to as Rory’s Glue Game.

“It’s a fun game,” Regan insisted. “Easy. All ya gotta do is remember that, when you come to the word ‘YOU,’ in a song, just substitute the word ‘GLUE’ in its place.”

He was singing at the top of his lungs such hits as “Glue’ll never know just how much I love glue . . .” and many more.

Wouldn’t ya know, I was somehow too screwed up to think of a single song with the word “you,” in its lyric, but I died laughing at all of his.

Oddly, after I arrived home, even with all of those brownies in me tummy, I was still ravenously hungry. During my hunt for munchies, my belt somehow got caught on the knife and fork drawer and, when I staggered away, the entire drawer  came loose, the utensils hitting the floor and making a horrible clatter.

I giggled, sat on the floor and started singing at the top of my lungs: “Glue do something to me. Glue got the power to hypnotize me.”

NOW? Now my brain kicked in with a song that had “you” in the lyrics?

I sensed my wife’s presence and looked up.

“Hi, wife! Wakey-wakey?”

“Hi, husband. How hi — are you?”

“Glue know me so well.”

Since 1999, Regan is forbidden to come within 200 feet of me on St. Patrick’s Day.

— 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.

The tiddlywinks channel

Two men sat at a table, several tiddlywinks in front of each of them, their attention on the little pot in the middle. They were not smiling. They were concentrating. After all, it was the eighth-finals. And it was being broadcast on the Twiddlywinks Channel.

“Hey, I used to—”

“Shh!” someone hissed. “This is important!”

Everyone else in the bleachers surrounding the table on all four sides clearly agreed. They were absolutely quiet. Respectful. The player in the red uniform focused, thinking very hard about his next move.

“The squidger!” someone shouted to him helpfully. “You have to pick up the squidger!”

After a few more very long tension-filled moments, the player picked up his squidger. Everyone cheered.
“Okay, now flip your wink into the pot!” someone else said encouragingly.

The player studied the table, concentrating.

“The pot’s in the center of the table!” Another supportive fan.

Just as he was about to flip his wink, he stopped. The crowd held its breath.

He pulled a squidger cloth from his pocket and cleaned the squidger.

Then he studied the table again, leaning to the left and the right. Then he got up from his chair and took another look at the table.

“He’s gotta be careful not to go offside,” the commentator whispered.

“He does,” the other commentator agreed, “but he’s gotta take a good reading of the distance and angle of orientation involved in this next shot. He might not get another one.”

Satisfied, the player returned to his seat and stared at the pile of blue and red winks in front of him. Finally, he picked up a red one. And made the shot.

A groan rose from half the crowd as the wink fell short of the pot. The other half cheered.

“Let’s watch the replay of that shot, Jim.”

The shot was replayed. In slow motion.

“Oh, see that? It fell short.”

“Yeah, that’s a shame.”

The shot was replayed again, this time from a different angle.

“Yes, it definitely fell short, Joe, no doubt about that call.”

A few tense moments later, the player in yellow flipped his last wink. It landed on the red wink that had fallen short. Even louder groans and cheers rose from the crowd.

“Oh, he’s been squopped!” Jim cried out. “That’s gotta be humiliating.”

“Yes, and that’s game,” the camera cut to a clock. “Let’s hope the crowd keeps it together. We don’t want a repeat of the riot that occurred yesterday.”

“We’re going to cut to a commercial while the referee tallies up the tiddlies—”

Several fans were on their feet in the bleachers, shouting and shaking their fists.
The commercial was for a complete set of twiddlywink player cards. Twenty-five in all, a different player, menacing in close-up, on each card.

“Well, Joe,” they were back on the air, and the referee had declared the player in yellow to be the winner, “this is a real shame. A real shame. And I don’t think anyone of us saw this coming, Cody out of the quarter-finals. If anyone could’ve made that last shot, Cody could’ve. He’s one of the best players in the league.”

“And one of the highest paid too, at $5.2 million last year,” Jim said.

“You know, he even had a twiddlywinks scholarship to Princeton.”

Jim shook his head. “What’s the world coming to?”

—Jass Richards

Jass Richards has a master’s degree in philosophy and for a (very) brief time was a stand-up comic (now she’s more of a sprawled-on-the-couch comic). Despite these attributes, she has received four Ontario Arts Council grants. In addition to her Rev and Dylan series (The Road Trip Dialogues, The Blasphemy Tour and License to Do That), which has reportedly made people snort root beer out their noses, she has written This Will Not Look Good on My Resume, a collection of short stories described as “a bit of quirky fun that slaps you upside the head,” and its sequel, Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun (“… terrifically funny and ingeniously acerbic…” Dr. Patricia Bloom, My Magic Dog). All of her books, including her most recent, TurboJetslams: Proof #29 of the Non-Existence of Godcan be purchased (in print and various e-formats) at all the usual online places. “The TwiddlyWinks Channel” is adapted from License to Do That. 

Reflections of Erma