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The path to redemption

Jan WilbergHow bad or how often does someone have to screw up to make them beyond redemption? What does it take to redeem oneself after showing really bad behavior? What do these questions have to do with a dog?

After years of happy strolls through our local dog park, Minnie, our beloved Beagle/Australian Shepherd mix, reclassified small dogs as wild game. As if she had been trained for months, she’d leap out of the car, cast a quick eye across the landscape and pick out the smallest, weakest and best groomed dog to chase, terrify and pin to the ground.

“Minnie! Minnie! MINNIE!,” we’d yell, my husband and I feigning expressions of surprise as if this was the very first time she’d ever shown such behavior. It made me remember the “oh dear, whatever are they thinking?” looks I’d conjure up when my toddler boys would be seen by the neighbor peeing in the bushes next to our house. “Stop it! Don’t pee in the bushes!” (Why are my sons peeing in the bushes? Why is my dog eating that frou-frou dog with the bow?)

I’m the third child, not the first, so I shouldn’t have this overblown sense of responsibility about everything. I should be carefree, used to being taken care of, enjoying the loveliness of low expectations and living life so clearly off the hook that nothing should bother me. That is so not the case. I worry about getting a flat tire when the tires are new, about running out of gas with a full tank and about my dog being charged with dogslaughter.

Anyway, so my husband announced yesterday that it was time to go back to the dog park. He said we needed to give Minnie a chance to be a great dog. He’s very much into dogs, communicating with dogs — or so he says, seeing meaning and purpose in dogs that the rest of us don’t see. He’s different. He was set on our taking Minnie back to the scene of her terrible behavior. He said that we needed to give Minnie a chance to redeem herself. I was sick with worry.

“I’ll stay in the car,” I said, figuring it the best way to avoid the inevitable bloodshed and keep a distant perch from which to second guess and criticize after the fact.

And then it occurred to me, the path to redemption could be paved with hot dogs!

We took a class at the Humane Society once where the instructor had us cutting hot dogs into tiny pieces, stuffing them in a little pouch that we were to keep hanging from our belts (who wears a belt?) and between holding the leash and using the clicker to signal various commands, we were to dole out the hot dogs.  It was nuts, requiring so much manual dexterity that I wanted to sit down and smoke a cigarette.

So we went to the grocery store where we bought the cheapest pack of hot dogs possible ($2.41), and then we drove to the dog park. Before we let Minnie out of the car, we showed her wonderment greater than any fluffy frou-frou dog with a bow. We each had a whole hot dog clutched in one fist. She took off. We called her back. Each time, she got a chunk of hot dog. Sometimes she just trotted along sniffing our hot dog hands. She’d run ahead and come back when we called. Chase a dog or two, sniff a little dog (scary!) and come barreling back down the trail when we yelled “Minnie.”

I’d wave my hand in front of her nose and she trotted alongside. Honestly, I felt like Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer, but with a little hot dog crutch. Now, I want hot dogs on me all the time, wherever I go with this dog. I want permanent hot dogs in my hand, in the glove compartment, in my coat pockets, hanging in links around my neck. The hot dogs made her a perfect dog.

Is this redemption? Would we call this redemption? Maybe it comes under the category of “assisted redemption.”  (HDAR — Hot Dog Assisted Redemption)

All I know is nothing terrible happened.  That’s good enough for me.

— Jan Wilberg

Jan Wilberg writes about everything from national politics to outwitting rats in the basement with the help of her two sons. She is a mother, grandmother and a formerly hearing impaired person rejoicing in the miracle of her new cochlear implant. Her blog Red’s Wrap has a tagline that says it all: Happiness. It’s relative.

5 things all moms should expect when toddler’s bestie is a dog

IMG_1020My son is an animal enthusiast.

At two-years-old, he loves listing off the names of animals, pointing out insects and squealing when he recognizes specific fish. He’s also slightly obsessed with our adopted chocolate lab. I know lots of mothers who wait until after their kids are older to get a pet, but in my case, we had our dog for two years before my son was born.

My dog is my son’s best friend and partner in crime. My family and friends always get a kick out of the photos I share on social media of their shenanigans, but there are five things all moms should expect when raising a toddler who has a dog as their bestie:

1) Sharing is very natural for both dog and child. 

When my son was a year old, I found him in the dog bed with the dog, chewing on a dog bone! At 18 months, my son routinely got down on all fours to drink out of the dog’s water bowl, refusing to drink from his own sippy cup. Most recently, I’ve found my dog and son covered in peanut butter! My son has unfortunately discovered how to stand on things to acquire items out of his reach. He’s especially fond of peanut butter and, apparently, so is the dog.

2) Your dog’s bowel movements are intriguing to toddlers.

I was really amused over the summer, as my son followed our dog all over the yard. He would get down on all fours and sniff flowers with her, participate in chasing the neighbor’s cat, and even pulled down his pants to pee on the tree a time or two. I was not so amused when I looked out my kitchen window to see my son squatting beside my dog. As the dog pooped, my son collected it in his hands and rubbed it all over himself! At his second birthday party later that summer, my son walked up to my dog, who was pooping, pulled his pants down and pooped with her…in front of all of our guests!

3) Don’t be surprised when your child starts licking you, instead of giving kisses.

My son has been displaying odd behavior lately. Instead of giving kisses, he licks you…more than once. It has been the topic of several awkward, unplanned conversations when he licks unsuspecting friends and family.

10462512_540671743284_1875713611027188503_n4) Prepare to be a referee between human and animal.

It’s rather embarrassing, but commonplace these days, to referee my child and dog who are fighting over a toy. My dog is very well behaved and never touches my son’s toys, but son is not so nice. If my son gets mad at the dog, he will take her stuffed animals and throw them in the trash! Sometimes, when my son is on the losing end of the argument, he will open our sliding glass door and try to send the dog outside. He tells the dog she’s bad and if he’s upset at her, he tells her she isn’t being very nice! I must admit, it’s quite difficult to keep a straight face when I try to calmly explain that the dog is sorry for her actions (like accidently knocking him over during play).

5) Trying to explain why the dog is treated differently will exhaust you.

For weeks, I’ve been having the same morning discussion with my son. Every morning, he wants to know why the dog doesn’t have to wear shoes. This is not just of great interest to him, but consistently, he has been using it as his defense for not wearing shoes. Lately, as winter progresses, his argument has evolved into why the dog doesn’t have to wear a coat. And yes, I’ve caught him putting his clothes on the dog. Since my son started daycare, he’s always questioned why he has to go to school, but the dog gets to stay home. Many times he’s begged to stay home with the dog instead of going to school and sometimes he even cries because he wants the dog to go to school with him. We’ve had a few feet of snow outside this past week, so we’ve kept our son indoors as much as possible. Obviously, our dog has a good reason for why she needs to go outside a few times every day. Try explaining to a two-year-old why it’s ok for the dog to go outside but not him. I’ll tell you, it’s a losing battle and it is exhausting trying to find something to say that will help him understand.

At first I was really worried about my selfish dog accepting the arrival of my infant son. However, I quickly discovered that my dog is incredibly caring, loyal and, most importantly, patient! She’s understanding when he pulls her tail, knows when to hide if my son has markers, and enjoys daily naps when the two get to cuddle.

I know my son adores and loves our dog and I’m so happy and thankful that they have each other. With that said, I am saving ALL of his embarrassing photos for when he hits the dating scene as a teenager!

— Debra Richardson

Debra Richardson lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, with her husband and two-year-old son. She’s a full-time English teacher, a public affairs specialist in the Army Reserves and writes a blog, The Blissful Overachiever.  Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Suburbia 5 a.m.

Nicole JohnsonSuburban bedroom, early a.m. —

A mother sleeps soundly — as soundly as any mother can sleep.

She feels the figure standing over her. She wonders which one it is — there are three, the fourth is still in a crib. She prays it isn’t him. If it is, that means a big-boy bed, which he will discover he can get out of.

“Mom,” it’s one of the big kids. The littles refer to her as “mommy.”

She speaks. “Whadda,” is all that comes out. Eloquence is reserved for daytime hours.

“I have a headache. Can I sleep with you?”

She fails to see how letting the nine-year-old sleep in her bed will cure her headache. “The bed is broken. It can barely stand the weight it holds now.”

“Daddy has been running,” the girl is hopeful. “And you’re so skinny, Mom.” Her attempts at flattery, while smart, are wasted at this early hour.

Finally, the nine-year-old leaves. The suburban hausfrau attempts to return to her dream. There is another figure — if it is the girl, she vows to threaten her with punishment.

“Mom,” it is the son, age 10. “Mom, mom, mom.”

As she sits up, she realizes both children, who have interrupted her semi-peaceful slumber, have passed by her sleeping husband, their sleeping father, without interrupting him. “What is it?”

“There’s a spider.” He is obviously upset.

“So, kill it.” She is obviously unmoved.

He won’t budge. “I hate spiders.”

She follows him downstairs, into the bathroom. The linoleum floor peels up in the corner. She notices this even in the dark.

He turns the light on and points, “There it is.”

“Get me a shoe.” She stares at the immobile arachnid.

“A what?” He only stares.

Maybe this is a dream. Maybe her life is nothing more than an offbeat television show.

“I need something to kill it.” Normally she would attempt to save it with the bug saver, a red cup — but it is too early in the morning to save anything. Besides, she saved a spider, possibly the brother or sister to this one, yesterday.

“I’m not giving you my shoe.” He stands firm.

She walks around him into the living room. She grabs a Dr. Seuss hoping she remembers to wipe the spider innards off it before the four-year-old sees it.

The woman prays that the spider is still in the sink. If not, the boy will never go back to sleep for the spider will be crawling somewhere in the house. He will grow and grow, plotting his revenge on the people who attempted to exterminate him.

“Mom, kill it.” The spider is so still, she wonders if he is alive at all. Maybe he can sense them and is playing dead. Do spiders do that?

Smack — she brings the book down hard on the porcelain. The spider is motionless, and then suddenly, in horror-movie fashion, it rises and scurries, with its misplaced legs dragging behind it, toward the drain. It is attempting to survive — the way all living creatures do. She feels awful. She does the only thing she can. Swalmp, she hits it again — at least twice. The spider is dead. The woman scoops it up with a tissue and throws it in the trash.

“I hate spiders,” the boy says as he returns to bed. She’s sure it’s his way of saying thank you.

Back in her own bed, she glances at the alarm clock — 5 a.m.

She stares at her husband, this man she’s had children with. He snores. Soon the alarm will sound, but that’s another story about suburbia — at 7 a.m.

— Nicole Johnson

Nicole Johnson received a bachelor’s degree in literature from Hofstra University and a master’s degree in television/video production from Emerson College. Her short stories have been published in the Wilderness House Literary Review and Grub Street. Currently, she is a stay-at-home mom raising four children, a dog, a cat and a husband. She fear birds, anything with the potential to cause fire, and Disney World. Read her blog here.

I heart Erma

This month is Erma Bombeck’s birthday. She would be 89 if she were alive today. When I tell folks I write a column, they ask what kind. I say, kinda like Erma Bombeck’s.

This Valentine’s Day I will attempt to pay tribute to the woman whose typewriter ribbon I am not worthy to change, who inadvertently taught me how to write, laugh, parent and appreciate what was most important in life.

If you want a glimpse into the life of an ordinary American housewife in the ’60s and ’70s, crack open one of her many books. She covered it all: the mystery of the lost sock, leftovers, teenagers and growing old. The ’60s were hard times — families were in crisis, and we felt the generation gap. This woman stood in that gap and managed to appreciate the next generation with all their quirks and hang-ups. Our mothers and grandmothers read and related to Erma Bombeck. They appreciated that some woman out there was writing about their own experiences.

Erma was prolific. At its height, her column, “At Wit’s End,” was running three times a week in 900 newspapers around the country. Her column ran from 1965-1996, the year of her premature death. She wrote 15 books, many of them best sellers. She appeared on “Good Morning America” and other television shows.

Her humor is legendary, but many of her columns were poignant. In Motherhood — The Second Oldest Profession, one chapter is titled “Everybody Else’s Mother.” She wrote about that age when your kids compare you to “everybody else’s mother.” Someone is always doing something different (which your kid prefers). But in the end she wrote:

“Everybody else’s mother is very real and for a few years she’s a formidable opponent to mothers everywhere. Then one day she disappears. In her place is 90 pounds (give or take) of rebellion and independence, engaging in verbal combat, saying for themselves what Everybody Else’s Mother used to say for them.”

Unfortunately, I was that kid. I used “everybody else’s parent” all the time. I hope my mom got some comfort from Erma’s words. My kids, not so much. I am a veteran now of “verbal combat.”

Perhaps Erma’s most popular piece flying around the Internet is “If I Had My Life to Live Over.”  She did not write it when she was dying of cancer, but rather in 1979. I have come to appreciate this last part of the column:

“But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute…look at it and really see it… live it…and never give it back. Stop sweating the small stuff. Don’t worry about who doesn’t like you, who has more, or who’s doing what. Instead, let’s cherish the relationships we have with those who DO love us.”

I know I read her columns before I had kids, but it was after I became a mother that I really enjoyed her work. With so many kids literally climbing the walls when I was home, when times were very difficult and I did not think I was going to make it, this small paragraph from the end of her book, At Wit’s End, carried me through. When asked why she wrote this book, she cited many reasons, but credits author Faith Baldwin:

“To be honest, however, I will have to admit that I wrote the book for the original model — the one who was overkidsed, underpatienced, with four years of college and chapped hands all year around. I knew if I didn’t follow Faith’s advice and laugh a little at myself, then I would surely cry.”

These few lines helped me. When I wanted to cry over my circumstances, I picked up her books and laughed. Actually, I laughed and cried at the same time. You see, so many of us who are raising kids or caring for others feel totally overlooked and invisible. Erma, while just talking about her own experiences, shined a light on all of us who take care of others — whether we are moms, dads, caregivers, teachers, etc. She appreciated what she did, and it spilled over to all of us.

Erma once wrote a column about Edith Bunker, the longsuffering wife of that loudmouth Archie from “All My Family.” Erma was sad that there were few Edith Bunkers in the world — few folks who listen, who look you in the eyes, who care about what you are saying instead of thinking of what to say next, someone who really hears. I don’t know if Erma was that much like Edith Bunker. I can’t see her taking too much of Archie’s crap, but I do think she listened and was attentive to what her readers wanted.

Thank you, Erma, for all you did. I agree with your sentiment to your kids in the dedication in Aunt Erma’s Cope Book, “If I blow it raising them…nothing else I do will matter very much.” I think most of us raising kids would agree.

— Donna Fentanes

Blogger Donna Fentanes is a mother of 10 kids living in Pacifica. She mixes humor and philosophical musings with everyday life.

The paper chase

Jerry ZezimaAs an old newspaperman living in a digital age, I am often asked if print will survive. My answer is yes, and for a very important reason: You can’t wrap fish in a website. Besides, what are you supposed to do, housebreak your dog on an iPad?

That’s why my columns, aside from their obvious benefit of being a cure for insomnia, are so valuable.

If one thing has irrevocably changed, however, it’s newspaper delivery, which used to be done by kids on bikes. Now it’s done by adults in cars.

In my never-ending quest for column material that can be used by puppy owners to keep their carpets clean, I recently rode with Lucille Marshak, a newspaper carrier whose best delivery on a dark and stormy night wasn’t the newspaper but, fittingly, a dog.

I met Lucille at a gas station at 3:45 a.m. and climbed into the back of her 2011 Kia Sedona, which already has nearly 200,000 miles on it and was filled with hundreds of newspapers that Lucille unfailingly delivers, every day except Christmas, through rain, snow, sleet and gloom of night.

On this gloomy night, it was rain that Lucille had to drive through.

I told her that my younger daughter used to deliver our hometown paper, The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut, when she was about 12 and that I once took over for her on a Sunday morning when she was sleeping at a friend’s house.

“It was murder,” I added. “I had to lug those heavy papers in a bag around the neighborhood. And I didn’t even have a bike.”

“Kids don’t do that anymore,” said Lucille, who is 61 and for the past 25 years has been delivering Newsday of Long Island, New York, where I now live.

As we made our way through the wooded back roads of Lucille’s long and winding route, which was eerily illuminated by the headlights of her car, a dog suddenly appeared out of the fog.

“I spoke with the owners earlier,” said Lucille, who began at 1 a.m., “and promised I’d  be on the lookout for the dog.”

The dog apparently was on the lookout for Lucille, who pulled over and, at my suggestion, opened the back door. The pooch, a beautiful husky, hopped in and shook herself off, giving me the shower I didn’t have time to take.

“Do you have to go to the bathroom?” I asked the dog. “We have plenty of newspapers.”

The grateful canine, who didn’t take advantage of my offer, for which I was grateful, slobbered me in kisses.

When Lucille pulled up to the dog’s house, her sibling owners, Chris and Jenna Dooley, both in their 20s, came running out. Their father, Charles, stood at the door.

“I was walking on the wet road in a pair of socks, calling her in the rain,” said Chris, adding that the dog’s name is Dakota and that she’s almost 2 years old. “My friend was over and when he opened the door to leave, she scooted out.”

It was now 4:15, way past Dakota’s bedtime.

“Come on, Dakota, let’s go inside,” said Chris. But Dakota didn’t want to leave, preferring to snuggle with me. Eventually she relented and went with Chris, who put her on a leash. “Thank you so much,” he said.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” asked Lucille, who extended her hand out the driver’s-side window and said, “Here’s your paper.”

For the next four hours, Lucille regaled me with stories, like the one about the woman who came out to get the paper naked, and the one about the angry guy who chased her in his car and tried to run her off the road because he didn’t want an advertising supplement.

She also showed me how to make a perfect hook shot, left-handed (she’s a righty) and over the roof of the car, to get the paper to land in subscribers’ driveways.

Then there was the Stolen Paper Caper, which occurred on the route of Lucille’s husband, Ron, who co-owns the family delivery service, which has included their three now-grown children.

“Two women were arrested for taking papers because they wanted the coupons,” Lucille recalled. “Ron and I were interviewed on TV.”

Ironically, a guy in my neighborhood has been stealing papers, including mine, while he walks his dog.

“Maybe the dog isn’t housebroken,” suggested Lucille, who has two dogs of her own and plenty of canine friends on her route.

“If it will help,” I said at the end of a fascinating night in which I saw how hard Lucille, Ron and other newspaper carriers work, “I’ll give the guy copies of my column. His dog will be greatly relieved.”

— 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 currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Invite people you don’t like to Super Bowl,
serve squid, codfish and octopi

Sammy SportfaceBe different. Branch out from mainstream America. Throw a Super Bowl party Sunday.

It’s a novel idea.

Invite people you wouldn’t really label your close friends. Just people you know. They don’t have to be people you like much. Maybe they’ve offended you. Maybe they don’t like you and you heard so through indirect channels. Maybe they told you because they couldn’t hold it in.

Make sure there is tension and discomfort between every person you invite has either never been addressed or won’t be resolved.

When they get the invite, they will be puzzled because when people are not close friends, have had differences in the past, or just don’t like being around each other, they know. Your invite will make them irritated. You want to invite the people — on a blast, impersonal email — who have no interest in going to your Super Bowl party. Not normally church-goers, on Super Bowl morning they will go to church to pray you will cancel your party.

When these people arrive at your front door Sunday, don’t say hello. Instead, hold in front of you a tray packed with hors d’oeuvres and a pile of toothpicks.

“How ‘bout a slab of squid to get Super Sunday kicked off?”

They will be taken aback that, before even saying hello or asking if you can hang up their coat, you will have put squid in front of their faces in almost a confrontational way.

All of the 25 guests will decline the squid. Most will have never tasted it and declined because they thought it was rude of you to offer it at the front door. They will be suspicious you did so just to mess with them.

Let them settle in, take a leak if need be but in the kid’s bathroom, not your master. Nobody messes up your master.

Offer them one beverage: Yoo-hoo chocolate water.

“Thanks, but do you have just a glass of water?” one lawyer who chases ambulances will say.

Tell him: “No, we aren’t serving water.”

“How about some Doritos?”

“Nope.”

“Oh come on, man. Every Super Bowl party has Doritos.”

Staring at his retinas, say: “Not this one.”

As seven of the 25 guests settle in on your uncomfortable chairs in front of your static-infested TV, amuse yourself watching the remaining 22 realize they must stand for the entire five-hour game because you purposely didn’t provide enough chairs.

Circulate through the crowd with another tray.

“How ‘bout a slab of codfish?”

You will hear non-stop “Nos.”

A few of the ladies, just trying to be polite, will jab a toothpick in the cod’s head and put one in their napkins. Don’t provide plates. Make them put the cods on napkins decorated with an oversized cod head.

Once you leave the room to bring on the Yoo-hoos, all will be muttering about what a jerk you are offering squid and codfish as the first foods to try at a Super Bowl party.

“Honey,” one wife will say to her husband. “I told you I didn’t want to go to this party. I want to get out of here. This guy’s a freak.”

“But the game’s starting,” the husband will say. “I wanna watch the game.”

“I wanna get outta here,” she will say.

She will force her husband to get her coat. They will hurry towards the door hoping to slip out before you notice. Intercept them before they get there. Hold in your hand another tray piled high with octopi.

“How ‘bout a half-dozen octopi for the road? Or if you not jones-ing for them now, I would be glad to drop a few in a container so you can enjoy them later?”

“Get out of our way, you codfish.”

“Sorry you’re leaving early. Yoo-hoo.”

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to Amazon.com.

A guy’s guide to figure skating

Con ChapmanYou know, eventually, the day will come.

It’s the dead of winter. You live in a four-sport town, but your football team isn’t in the Super Bowl, your NBA franchise is playing for the lottery, and your local hockey team hasn’t been to the Stanley Cup since Lord Stanley croaked.

Your wife or girlfriend turns to you and utters the six words that, strung together in the proper order, bring nausea to the stomach of any red-blooded American male.

“Is there any skating on tonight?”

Your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth, as if with peanut butter, because without a rooting interest to guide you, you can’t rattle off a televised sports event of greater significance than a non-title bout in the junior flyweight division of the WBA. Or is it the WBO? WBC?

You’re trapped. And, since it’s Saturday night, you decide to be nice to her — for ulterior reasons.

You hand her the remote and head for the fridge.

Wait — come back. You can learn to stomach figure skating. Really. Just follow these easy “Learn-to-Love Skating!” guidelines:

She’s Not That Into Them. You dread the thought of watching guys salchowing around in sequins and stretch pants. Don’t assume she wants to watch men, or even pairs, however.  For reasons that are unclear down deep, but readily apparent on the surface, women like to watch women. You don’t watch the WNBA, do you?

Look at That Outfit! In case you only pay attention to women’s figure skating when somebody takes a tire iron to an Olympic hopeful’s shinbone, the women’s outfits leave nothing to the imagination, as the foundation undergarment industry used to say.

Pretend It’s NASCAR. Just as some fans go to stock car races for the crashes, and some hockey fans only get excited when there’s a fight, it’s fun to watch skating for the falls. If the networks were smart, they’d zoom in on the point where the panties hit the ice and circle it with a John Madden-model video pen to show the circumference and depth of concave impression. “Looks like Maria must be wearing husky sizes now, Carol!” “I think she’s been g0bbling down too many linzer tortes, Dick.”

Pick a Villain. Pro wrestling promoters learned long ago that it takes a villain to raise the ratings. Katerina Witt was for years the Barry Bonds of women’s figure skating — unloved, even at the top of her game. Then it turned out she was a willing accomplice of the East German secret police, and people really started to dislike her.

If you’re the type that hates dynasties, rag on the current Numero Uno.

Pick a Favorite. The flip side of picking a villain is to select a sentimental favorite — the wide-eyed, white-skated equivalent of the Chicago Cubs.  You can then gush over her every toe loop. Sorry, Irina Slutskaya is taken — I saw her first!

Get Mad At the Judges. Everyone knows that skating is as crooked as boxing. When your favorite skater finishes her routine, take a deep breath as she picks up her teddy bears and long-stemmed red roses and heads to the “kiss and cry” area. Get ready to explode when the scores are announced. “Only 9.8 for artistic expression!” you scream. “She was robbed!” Storm out of the room, check score of Australian-rules football game on the den TV. Pull a nose hair or two until your eyes water, grab a Kleenex and return sniffling to the couch.

The woman waiting for you there will give you a big hug.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

Humor hero

Jerry Zezima(Editor’s Note: Jerry Zezima is the president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. In NSNC’s February newsletter, he pays tribute to Erma Bombeck.)

Erma Bombeck was the mother of all humorists. Also the mother of three children, Erma had a legion of fans in women who identified with her funny take on what she called “the second-oldest profession.”

But she didn’t appeal only to women. A lot of her readers were men. One of them was yours truly. Along with Art Buchwald and Robert Benchley, Erma was one of my humor heroes.

Thirty-one years ago, when I began writing my nationally syndicated humor column for my hometown paper, The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut, I used Erma as a model — except, of course, I had a husband and father’s perspective.

Eventually, I found my own voice, which didn’t do much good because I am singing-impaired. Still, Erma has continued to be a great influence, not only on me, but on just about every other newspaper humorist, man or woman, of the past half-century.

I am writing about Erma for two reasons: February is the month of her birth (Feb. 21, 1927, was the day she entered the world), and it has been 20 years since she died (she left us on April 22, 1996).

As president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, I am proud of the partnership between the NSNC and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which will hold its biennial conference March 31-April 2 at Erma’s alma mater, the University of Dayton in Ohio.

The workshop, organized by Teri Rizvi, executive director of strategic communications at UD, is sold out, but you should still check out the EBWW’s website at humorwriters.org.

NSNC Vice President Lisa Smith Molinari will represent our organization at the EBWW, where I was a faculty member in 2010. That same year, NSNC member Tracy Beckerman was included in a CBS News Sunday Morning story on Erma and the workshop.

Erma began writing her column, “At Wit’s End,” in 1964, at age 37.

As she famously explained, “I was too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security and too tired for an affair.”

For the next 32 years, Erma wrote about family foibles like nobody else before or since. Her nearly 4,000 columns alone would have been enough to secure her legacy, but Erma also wrote a dozen books, most of them bestsellers. In addition, she was a popular public speaker who filled auditoriums and lecture halls with fans, young and old, who read and loved her.

Erma, who disdained computers and wrote on a typewriter, also became a multimedia star.  For 11 years she was a correspondent on Good Morning America. She frequently appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. One of her books, The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, was made into a TV movie. And she wrote and produced a short-lived sitcom, Maggie.

She was the epitome of what we want to accomplish at this year’s NSNC conference, June 23-26 in Los Angeles, which is to help our members turn their columns, blogs and books into films or TV shows.

It’s a long shot, to be sure, because none of us has the national audience of Erma, whose columns ran in some 900 newspapers. But we can look up to her, not just professionally but personally, because Erma was, by all accounts, as wonderful, modest and delightfully funny in person as she was in her work.

When she died in 1996, of complications after a kidney transplant, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman, who also won the NSNC’s Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, wrote: “A lot of columnists write words to end up in the Congressional Record or on the president’s desk or at the Pulitzer Committee’s door. But Erma Bombeck went us all one better: Her words won her the permanent place of honor in American life: the refrigerator door.”

But fittingly, it was Erma herself who best summed it up: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”

Erma Bombeck sure did.

— 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 currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Reflections of Erma