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My wife, Apple and her virtual dog

Way back before smart phones and Siri, only an operator could help you make a long distance phone call. You dialed zero and actually talked to a live human being. In Mayberry, her name was Sarah.

There were no Apples, except the kind you ate. Same goes for Blackberries. Our dial phone was made by Western Electric. And, like T-Model Fords, they came in any color you’d like, as long as they were black.

Nothing ever went wrong with them, either. So there was no such thing as the “Western Electric Store.” But a lot of things can go wrong with Apple iPhones. And do. Hence the need for the Apple Store, where people from eight to 80 go to await their turn for a seat at The Genius Bar. The eight-year-olds get it. But some 80-year-olds don’t know their IOS from a hole in the ground.

My wife and I were in the Apple Store the other day because her dog wasn’t barking. Not a real dog mind you, but her virtual dog; the one that barks to signal she has a voice mail message. I told her if she would answer her phone to start with, she wouldn’t have to worry about voice mails.

My comment went over like a lead balloon. With my virtual tail between my legs, I waddled off to my virtual doghouse. Later, over food and water (and wine), I apologized. I started to tell her that her dog might be barking up the wrong tree, but didn’t want to push my luck.

I’m glad we didn’t have smart phones and virtual dogs when I was growing up. Or computers. Or iPads. Or video games. Facetime then was not chatting with someone on an iPhone. It was talking face to face — in person.

When my parents took us out to dinner (which wasn’t very often) our focus was on each other, not on our Facebook “friends.” Not having social media gave us time to develop social skills.

I do wish we’d had a garage back then, though. Why? Because great things such as Apple, Amazon and Google were invented in garages. But all we had was a carport. And nothing great was ever invented in a carport.

That’s my excuse. And I’m sticking to it.

— Raymond Reid

Raymond Reid is a national-award winning humor columnist from Kernersville, NC. He can be contacted at rreid7@triad.rr.com.

Benefits of hernia surgery

 

Recently my beloved had hernia surgery. An ordeal, truly. But I am wondering just how long, according to his surgeon, his being “unable to lift anything heavier than an iPhone” lasts.

We live in a small 55+ community. Our home stood out somewhat, not because of its creative, unique landscaping. Au contraire, it stands out because of its lack of any kind of landscaping, at least in front of the house. All the other houses sport lovely curb appeal. Trees, plantings, porches. But not ours. The most distinctive landscaping effect we have is gravel. And lots of it. Unfortunately, below this gravel is soil cleverly disguised as cement. Impossible to dig.

My husband came home the other day and said, “I have a great idea!” Normally, when he utters these words I cringe.

“Planters!”

Why, yes. That is a good idea. But one small problem. The hernia. He was unable to, “thanks Doc,” “lift anything heavier than an iPhone.” Obviously a 300-pound bag of top soil was heavier than a stupid phone. (Okay, so it wasn’t 300 pounds.)

We trotted over to Lowes where we found Wonder Woman who graciously offered to load six bags of the stuff into our car. Then we paid a local handyman $20 to unload it. We also had bought nine plastic planters of various sizes, ranging from normal large to humongous large. I knew what I had to do.

My dear husband, who truly felt bad that he could not participate, began to direct me. I do not like being directed. “Use the shovel to break open the bag. Don’t fill the bucket. Drag the bag of soil closer to the pot.” On and on he went. I said, in a most exasperated tone, “Just leave!” And he did. He sulked off.

Normally, on a beautiful day like today, there are cars going by, neighbors waving and being friendly. And even some walkers. After about an hour I realized not one car had passed. Not one. I honestly believe word had gotten out. “Susie is working. Do not go near her house if you are over 55.” This, naturally included the entire community.

So I began using my ole’ noggin to get these damn pots filled. I sweated, I heaved and I hoed, panting like crazy dragging those damn bags around, using a small pot to get the 300-pound bag to a weight I could handle, then dumping the remaining soil into the pots. I admit, I did take occasional wine spritzer, er, iced tea breaks.

But I did it. And was damn proud of myself. And my beloved? He graciously cleaned up my mess, as long as nothing weighed more than an iPhone.

— Susie Richardson

Susie Richardson wrote a humorous family life column for the Daily Oklahoman and continues to write even though her children are grown. She constantly and consistently finds humor in the mundane. Much like Seinfeld.

Chloe and Poppie make ice cream

If anything is sweeter than ice cream, it’s my 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, who is sweet on ice cream herself.

That’s why she was happy to meet someone who makes sweets for the sweet: Choudry Ali, who owns Magic Fountain, a popular ice cream store in Mattituck, New York.

Ali, as everybody calls him (“It’s easier,” he said), recently invited me, Chloe and my younger daughter, Lauren, aka Chloe’s mommy, to Magic Fountain to see the magic behind the fountain of ice cream he makes every day.

“I’m going to need your help to make the next batch,” Ali told Chloe, who was busy eating a cone of vanilla soft serve with sprinkles, her favorite, which Ali kindly gave to her as prepayment for her manufacturing services.

Chloe nodded, getting a dab of ice cream on her nose.

“Can I help, too?” I asked eagerly.

“Yes,” Ali replied. “As long as you don’t make a mess. I have a feeling that Chloe is neater than you are.”

Ali, 49, acknowledged that he has made his share of messes in the 10 years he has owned Magic Fountain.

“One time I forgot to turn on the freezer switch, so when I opened the machine, chocolate spilled out all over the floor,” Ali recalled. “I had to go home to get changed. At least I smelled good.”

He was just finishing a batch of black raspberry, which prompted me to show off my vast ice cream knowledge by saying, “Let me guess. The main ingredient is black raspberry.”

“What are you, a stand-up comedian?” Ali asked.

“Well, I am standing up,” I noted. “If I were sitting down in a tub of black raspberry, the fruit would be on the bottom.”

Lauren rolled her eyes. Chloe kept eating.

As Ali cleaned out the 24-quart machine for the next batch, he said Magic Fountain has 250 kinds of ice cream, including 45 everyday flavors and five that rotate every two weeks.

“What’s your favorite flavor?” I asked Ali.

“Pistachio,” he said.

“Do you ever make extra just for yourself?” I wondered.

“Of course,” he replied. “And I never get in trouble with the boss.”

“My favorite is rocky road,” Lauren said, adding that it helped her get through her pregnancy with her younger daughter, Lilly, who is 9 months old and will no doubt be an ice cream fan, too.

When Ali asked what my favorite flavor is, I said, “Whatever we’re about to make.”

It was honey-cinnamon.

“An excellent choice,” I told Ali as he opened a 48-ounce bottle of honey and asked me to pour it into a plastic container.

As I squeezed, with minimal results, I asked Chloe to lend a hand, which at this point was streaked with vanilla ice cream and sprinkles. Lauren wiped it off so Chloe could help me. The honey came pouring out.

“Good job!” Lauren said.

“She’s a pro,” Ali added.

“How about me?” I asked.

Ali responded, “Let’s just say it’s a good thing Chloe is here.”

Chloe smiled and helped me pour 8 ounces of ground cinnamon into a measuring cup, which we then dumped into the container. Ali gave me a spatula and asked me to mix the two ingredients. I was slower than molasses, which wasn’t even in there, so Ali took over and showed me how it’s done, after which the honey-cinnamon had the smooth, creamy consistency of honey-cinnamon.

Ali opened the slot in the front of the machine and squeezed in a two-and-a-half-gallon bag of ice cream mix, which includes butterfat but is egg- and gluten-free, and asked me to pour in the honey-cinnamon mixture.

“Turn on the machine,” Ali said. “And don’t forget the freezer switch.”

Twenty minutes later, the ice cream was finished. It filled two buckets totaling five gallons.

“OK,” Ali said. “Time to taste it.”

He handed a small plastic spoon to Chloe, who scooped some out, put it in her mouth and exclaimed, “Wow!”

“Is it good?” Ali asked.

“Yes!” Chloe chirped.

“And you helped make it,” Lauren said proudly.

“I know,” said Chloe, who got a clean spoon and had another taste, after which Ali gave her a cup of vanilla and pistachio “for being such a good ice cream maker.”

It was a sweet gesture by a sweet man, who gave some honey-cinnamon to Lauren and me and tried it himself. We all agreed it was great. Then Ali put the batch in the shocker, or deep freezer, where it would stay for 12 hours before being sold.

As we were leaving, Chloe gave Ali a high-five and said, “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” Ali replied. “Now you can say you taught your grandfather how to make ice cream.”

— 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.

The pedicure is worse than the disease

Before my family’s most recent beach vacation, my wife suggested, under the guise of promoting some father-daughter bonding, that I go with my daughters to get a pedicure.

This was actually her subtle way of suggesting that I do something about the fact that my toes look like mutant Fritos. Having had my man card revoked a long time ago, I agreed to undergo this procedure that I find about as pointless as chest hair waxing. (I prefer to have mine braided.) Only my middle daughter, Anna, chose to join me in the ordeal, which makes sense as she is always game for any activity that might involve spending my money frivolously. My youngest and most bashful daughter, Abbie, also came along to watch, presumably so she could test the limits of her embarrassment.

Because we also needed some lunch meat, we went to probably the only place on the planet where you can shop for smoked ham and enjoy a spa treatment under one roof — Walmart. Naturally, the nail salon is located at the front of the store so that everyone in the checkout lines can gaze with pity and hilarity at the freakish dude getting his toenails done. (Now I know why zoo chimps fling their poo at the spectators.)

When we entered the nail salon and indicated that we wanted pedicures, the receptionist asked us to step over to a massive display of nail polish and choose our colors. I almost reached for the Magenta Midnight Fantasy when I caught myself and informed her that I wouldn’t need mine painted. She just giggled sheepishly and said, “Oh, I forgot.”

Now, lest you get the idea that I’m narrow-minded and judgmental, I do realize that some men have their toenails painted — right before their performances at Cirque du Soleil.

Once Anna had selected her polish, while I nervously pretended to check football recruiting stats on my manly Bleacher Report app, we were directed by our technicians to have a seat in some suspicious-looking pedicure chairs. My worries intensified when the technician asked me to place my feet up on a little platform, lean back and relax while she snapped on a pair of rubber gloves. I was suddenly stricken with the terrifying notion that I might have accidentally stumbled into a women’s health clinic and was about to have my annual pelvic exam. Instead, she simply lifted my feet and lowered them into a basin of warm, blue liquid that looked like water from a portable toilet.

I then noticed that the back of the chair was moving. It felt like a pair of muscular mole rats had burrowed their way into the upholstery and were engaged in some kind of elaborate courtship ritual all over my spine. I figured that the massage was designed to distract me from the fact that I was allowing another human being to handle and groom a part of my body that even grosses me out.

My technician was a petite and intense Vietnamese lady who undoubtedly strikes fear into the heart of toe jam everywhere. She began by going after my calloused heels with an industrial-grade cheese grater. One foot at a time, she rigorously scraped off my built-in flip flops. I teased Anna that I’d be sure to bring one of the graters to use the next time we ordered a salad at Olive Garden. (Cue the exaggerated eye roll.)

After stripping away my heel bark and de-clawing my digits, the technician ended the pedicure by exfoliating my lower legs with a gritty, orange paste that was exactly the same color as some massive tropical fish that had been glaring at me reproachfully as they drifted around in their tanks at the back of the salon. When the technician saw me peering at the bright orange fish and then at the paste, she said something in Vietnamese to the technician beside her, and they both laughed a little too heartily for my taste.

Putting aside thoughts that I might currently be enjoying a lotion made out of freshly ground Nemo, I turned my head and smiled at Anna. Even though I felt a little awkward having a pedicure, I was glad that we shared this experience because I know that before long, she’ll be off on her own, and I’ll have to apply my Magenta Midnight Fantasy all by myself.

— Jason Graves

Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective in his blog. Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.

My top Twitter tip

First, let me establish that I am a right-brain creative technophobe. If you find Twitter obtuse, we could be BFFs.

I had to overcome my Twitter aversion in order to market the humorous real estate book I wrote because, per many social media gurus, it is the best social media platform (and least expensive, and quickest) for getting the word out about your service or product. There’s a reason Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s chief marketing evangelist for the Mac, maintains a follower base of 2 million plus and tweets up to 10 times a day.

So when there’s a simple way to get followers on Twitter, something you can do just once (or better yet, have someone else do it) and have it keep working for you, I must share: it’s your banner.

The banner, aka masthead or header, is the first impression you make and is almost as important as how often and what you tweet. To engage followers you need to look follow-worthy, and you do that with an image and words that speak to people — that show you have common interests and that following you will be interesting.

Unruffle those feathers! You do not need to create the banner yourself. There are several services (I used Fiverr.com) that will do that for you for about $25, and the result will fit Twitter’s size parameters. If you’ve authored a book, include a picture of it. Don’t worry, though, if you don’t have a book (it won’t be conspicuous by its absence); just tell the designer that you want some graphics to indicate that you write. If you have a cause you’re passionate about and you want to put it “out there,” include a relevant logo (if permissible) or some reference to the issue. The more avocations or interests you display in your banner, the more diverse a follower base you’ll attract. Think about what kind of audience you want.

In my instructions to Fiverr I said I needed a colorful, upbeat Twitter banner that would appeal to book lovers, business people, and those who like to read positive, inspiring quotes. I wanted to identify myself geographically, so I included a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you need ideas, look up other authors’ Twitter pages and see what they did.

As the great philosopher Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is showing up.” A great banner will ensure that you show up well.

— Cathy Turney

Cathy Turney is the author of Get 10,000+ Twitter Followers — Easily, Quickly, Ethically. Her humorous tell-all about the real estate sales industry, Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success, won the American Business Association Stevie Award for Best Business Book of the Year in 2015. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, tweets at @CathyTurneyLafs, blogs at www.CathyTurneyWrites.com and emails at Cathy@CathyTurney.com.

Seasonal disorder

Men, dear men. They are so naïve. They are slowly but surely being conned into believing that we are all equals. It is absurd.

It is imperative that men understand that they are not like women, no matter how much they would like to be. The difference can be dramatic. This is not meant to be judgmental. Merely an observation.

FACT: Men borrow their wives’ cuticle scissors to cut the hair in their nose. That is considered all right. When the same wives use their husbands’ razors on their legs, the men get hysterical.

FACT: Women are well informed in many areas and will offer to share their knowledge whenever necessary and — occasionally when it is not. Men care mostly about sports, business and Heidi Klum. If any other conversation is brought up, they begin to snore.

FACT: Men complain if they have to wait 15 lousy minutes for a woman to get dressed. Yet, my friend is still waiting for her guy to come back with bread he went to buy. It’s been two years. Fortunately, she is on a gluten-free diet so she’s patient.

FACT: We encourage our men to communicate with us. They encourage us to get laryngitis. (“Bella, sleep with the windows open. It’s good for you.”)

OBSERVATION: It is not impossible for a man to accomplish the task of being equal to women. There are probably some jobs that they might do as well. And if so, they absolutely should be paid as well, too.

FACT: There is a congenital difference. It is the hormone factor, not a reflection on character, but the burden of being male. Yearly, they experience “that time of the year.” Symptoms include yelling, screaming and bursting into tears. The most latter is the saddest to witness. I have seen it happen in the best of families, including my own.

That is why I am considerate and loving during that difficult time. I recognize that it is a part of maleness.

It happens every time their football team is defeated.

The anguish continues during each instant replay or recap and is intensified every time I accidentally mention the losing score.

I believe women should not flaunt their natural superiority at this time. Instead, each in her own way should exhibit love and affection during her man’s “seasonal.”

Remember, men do get teary. So when they do get teary, try a little tenderness.

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall is an author, humor columnist, certified clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker. She established the International Humor & Healing Institute in 1986. Prominent physicians and other board members, including Steve Allen and Norman Cousins, shared her techniques for healing through hope and laughter. She also has created and hosted two television series. Steve Allen was her favorite guest, and she became a regular nag/humorist on his syndicated WNEW radio show. Her first book, Still Hanging in There: Confessions of a Totaled Woman, is still available at Amazon and www.barnesandnoble.com. Her satirical survival book, Dancin’ Shmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What!, is available on Amazon.

Not a suburban housewife

Sometimes I think I missed my true calling as a suburban housewife.

I could totally see myself wearing yoga pants and signing for UPS packages while my husband was at work and Disney Junior blared in the background.

Instead, I live on a remote cattle ranch 2 1/2 hours from town and one hour past mail delivery. Amazon Prime and cable cartoons don’t apply to my life. Even though I grew up in the country, sometimes I think I’m not cut out for the unusually large amounts of dirt, wild animal encounters and solitude that is provided by my life as a cowboy’s wife. I want my children to be clean for longer than the duration of their baths. I want to see a tarantula never, instead of on my bathroom floor. I want to have a friend besides the windmill.

I dream of having real electricity. We live off the grid, so when the power goes out, I must get out of my warm bed — sometimes during a freezing rainstorm — and feel my way along the walls to locate a flashlight, find my husband’s boots, then brace myself for the final step.

“Here, take these and go start the generator,” I whisper as I shake Jim’s shoulder.

“Why? It’s the middle of the night.”

“I might want to make some microwave popcorn.”

“We don’t have a microwave.”

“I might want to watch TV.”

“We don’t have cable.”

“I might want to read a book.”

“Use your flashlight.”

If I lived close enough to other humans to have real electricity, I could probably also have someone to visit with besides my husband. I’m tired of meeting for coffee with the family dog and a windmill. The dog always has gas, and the windmill never holds up her end of the conversation.

I want to know what it’s like to buy bananas and have them arrive at my home bright yellow and unbruised. I wonder what it’s like to brake smoothly at the stop sign on the corner rather than shift into four-wheel-drive in order to make it through the cow pasture on my way to town. I yearn to own a house key and lock my car upon each exit. I want to walk outside my house in my nightgown to wave at the garbage man and embarrass my kids, not chase the bulls out of the front yard.

I could definitely envision myself driving a shiny SUV that has never seen a speck of dirt. Maybe a newer model in cobalt blue. In actuality, I do drive an SUV, but it’s a ’95 Jeep Cherokee. The paint job is flawless, but you’ll have to take my word for it, because it’s usually covered with dirt. It has a CD player and power nothing, but driving it makes me feel like Indiana Jones.

Shopping online with free overnight delivery is probably overrated, anyway. Playing in the dirt helps build my kids’ immune systems, and I keep reminding myself that tarantulas are harmless. At least the windmill doesn’t spread gossip (she’s not THAT kind of mill).

Plus, out here I have plenty of room to practice my off-road driving skills. Once I got the feel for four-low and made it through a few monster mud puddles, I realized that I could never hack it as a suburban housewife. Next time I see a giant arachnid in my house, I’ll just channel my inner Indy and crack a bullwhip at it…while screaming for my husband to come kill it, of course.

— Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives in a remote camp on the O RO Ranch in northern Arizona with her cowboy husband and their two small children. Just like more urban homemakers, she spends her days feeding, cleaning and entertaining kids. Unlike her suburban counterparts, she deals with vastly larger quantities of dirt and occasionally runs outside to chase bulls out of the front yard in her nightgown. Her humor column, “Desolate Ranch Wife,” is currently carried by publications in Nevada and Arizona. To read more of her writing, visit www.jolynyoung.com.

A shred of decency

The older I get, the more medical specialists I require to stave off complete deterioration. I’ve begun attracting marketers for hearing aids, orthopedic appliances and long-term care, so it seems everyone wants my body but not in a good way.

This year’s Grand Tour of Infirmities began with the dermatologist. I have an unusual number of freckles so there’s a lot of real estate to check for skin cancer. And, no, that was not a fat joke. Examining mole borders, symmetry, and color variations is exacting work; still, my dermatologist got the better deal because she got to keep her clothes on.

Her office is on the 22nd floor, so the medical staff leaves the window coverings open with little worry about privacy. I, on the other hand, like a little mystery when stripping down to my undies and a paper garment in front of an open window. My first task was to close the blinds, possibly to the disappointment of Mr. Lonely in the high-rise two blocks away who was hoping for something young and nubile during the next appointment.

I strategically repositioned my tissue-paper gown as needed, preserving as much modesty as I could, which for the record was zero. But I abandoned all hope when the doc asked me to stand so she could examine my back. The breeze told me I was completely hanging out so at least she had easy access.

Consumed by embarrassment, my mind wandered to what would happen if the office caught fire. I weighed the pros and cons of possible escapes including (a) succumbing to a fiery death because I’d rather die than run outside looking like this, or (b) trying to escape wearing half a paper dress and finding a new dermatologist because I can never face these people again.

Meanwhile, the doc noticed white patches on my torso and pronounced a new diagnosis: vitiligo, Michael Jackson’s disease. Unfortunately, it did not endow me with Michael’s signature dance moves, which might be a blessing because I can’t afford to break a hip.

The next test on my agenda was a mammogram, an annual ritual for women of a certain age. This required me to insert the most sensitive part of my anatomy, one breast at a time, into a clear plexiglass vice while the technician tightened clamps and I cried for a meteor to release me from this hell.

Radiologic technicians undergo specialized training to master these Jaws-of-Death devices, learning to compress with gusto to a point just shy of outright amputation, and to do so with a relentless cheerfulness that makes us suspect their motives.

After the mammogram had been completed, it was on to the gynecologist for more cancer screening, probing, and a thorough discussion of stuff that was none of his or anyone else’s business. Once again, the required garb was a disposable tissue-paper assembly, worn open in the front so why bother.

His exam table was short with metal stirrups, and I was directed to “scoot down” to an edge I could not see — an exercise in trust because one false move would lead to unsightly flailing, a monumental thud, and certain hospitalization. On the bright side, all my laughing about it answered the doc’s question about stress incontinence. So there’s that.

This year’s medical agenda completed, it’s almost time for me to schedule next summer’s tour de force: the routine colonoscopy. Everyone’s favorite part of this two-day ordeal is drinking a vat of vile-tasting prep and blowing out the contents of your large intestines until you have nothing left to lose. Literally nothing.

Then, you glide into your doctor’s office starved out of your mind and several pounds lighter. During the procedure, the gastroenterologist uses a camera-equipped hose to inspect things inside the body that human eyes were never meant to see — that’s why they’re inside — via a route never intended as an entrance.

This humiliation is so great that I avoid all eye contact during the transaction. I’ve gone to the same gastroenterologist for 20 years and I barely know what the man looks like. I’m counting on him not recognizing me in the grocery store, either.

— Mary Kay Fleming

Mary Kay Fleming is a psychology professor at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. Her personal essays appear in These Summer Months and the upcoming In Celebration of Sisters anthologies. The winner of the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition for global humor, Mary Kay writes humorous essays to maintain a rather tenuous grasp on sanity.

Reflections of Erma