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Let me play among the stars

(Editor’s Note: The following essay is an excerpt from Ritch Shydner’s book, Kicking Through the Ashes: My Life as a Stand-up in the 1980s Comedy Boom. Posted by permission of the author.)

From 1984 to 1991, I was on The Tonight Show about a dozen times.

Even after getting to panel on my fourth appearance I wasn’t a lock to be called to the couch. That was okay. I wanted his approval but never felt as comfortable with Johnny Carson as I did with David Letterman. This was strictly my problem. Plenty of comics my age rolled with Johnny, but to me he was a father figure. Growing up, my Dad and I had an adversarial and sometimes violent relationship. Later he felt my choice of a career in comedy was a mistake. I just couldn’t get loose with Johnny.

My dad saw me perform a few times early in my career and never had anything to say. One night, I did the whole show about him and he left without saying a word. He never called after any of my Tonight Show shots. The only thing he ever said about my chosen profession was, “What you do is tough. If they don’t buy the insurance I sell, I can say they didn’t like that insurance, but if they don’t laugh, they didn’t buy you.” Not really a ringing endorsement, but in my family, acknowledging your existence was as close as you might ever get to a compliment.

I got sober in 1985 and made amends to my dad for a lot of things, including wrecking his cars, the fistfights, and shooting at him while hunting. Three years later he got sober and came to California to clean up his side of the street. Afterward, we hugged and cried but there remained a gap between us.

During a 1989 Tonight Show appearance, I was told right before walking onto the soundstage that there wasn’t enough time for panel. I tossed the disappointment and did my job. Feeling loose, I walked out and did a quick gunfighter pose before I started my set. It’s something I did in the clubs from time to time. Three people might get it, but that was fine. I guess it was my version of Don Rickles’ metaphor of the stand-up comic as bullfighter. The gunfighter, confrontational and suspicious, covered my relationship with the audience and the world at large.

After finishing my set, instead of acknowledging Johnny and walking for the curtain, I did a little more of the gunfighter. I pulled my jacket back with my right hand, assumed a gunfighter stance and backed slowly to the curtain, while scanning the audience for trouble.

A baffled Ed McMahon asked Johnny, “What’s he doing?”

Johnny laughed. He said, “He’s doing a gunfighter.”

The next day my dad called me. “That gunfighter thing you did really cracked Johnny up. You know what? You’re really good at this.”

No call ever meant more to me. There’s this old Southern expression, “You’re not a man until your daddy says you’re one.” When I was young, I saw my dad making people laugh and my friends even said he was funny, but I didn’t get it. He closed the gap that night. We’ve been laughing together ever since.

— Ritch Shydner

The author of Kicking Through the Ashes: My Life as a Stand-up in the 1980s Comedy Boom, stand-up comedian Ritch Shydner has made numerous guest appearances on late-night TV, played Al Bundy’s co-worker on Married with Children and written for Roseanne, The Jeff Foxworthy Show and HBO’s The Mind of the Married Man. He was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop “Humor Writer of the Month” in August 2017.

How dare you do self-care!

The ’70s and ’80s commercial slogan, “Calgon take me away!” has nothing on today’s overused buzzword we know simply as “Self-Care.”

In fact, my six children do a fake vomiting impression whenever they hear those two little words, probably because they got so sick of its predecessor — that classic analogy meant to justify my taking a break that went like this, “Mommy has to put her own oxygen mask on first before she can help you put on yours.” So now they officially refuse to travel on an airplane with me. (By the way, these same kids also signed a petition to prevent my talking about myself in the third person, but that’s another blog entirely!)

So how did the pendulum swing so far in the other direction for females? You may recall not too long ago, most mothers put everyone else first, to the point of truly neglecting themselves, making motherhood synonymous with martyrdom. Gradually women learned it was okay to sometimes say, “No!” and that was kind of a nice, happy medium. Because sometimes we still said, “Yes!”

But now it’s gotten to the point where nobody shows up to help in an emergency because we can’t cope with any crisis until we’ve practiced good self-care. Imagine a horrible earthquake occurring, but before the American Red Cross sends assistance, they must slather a soothing beauty balm onto their skin!

The next time you hang up the phone or part ways with someone while casually saying, “Take care of yourself now!” be aware that you’ve just granted someone permission to go get a mani/pedi, watch a soap opera and eat chocolate bonbons. That’s because “Self-Care” is loosely defined to encompass anything from aromatherapy (using essential oils!) to literally running away from life.

Join me now as we listen in on a “Self-Care, Self-Help, Self-Realized, Do-It-Yourself Support Group” in progress. (And if you think that has too many “Self” words in it, congratulations you catch on fast!)

Leader: Take out your Self-Care journals and let’s make a list of what we need to have in our Self-Care kits. And then let’s take a Selfie holding them. Selma, please read your list?

Selma: I’m a Pisces so I gravitate to water. Ready? Bath Salts, Bath Bombs, Bath Oils, Bath Bubbles, Bath Gels, Bath Sponges, Bath Scrubs, Bath Soaps…oh and you should put an actual Bathtub in your kit if it can fit.

Leader: Definitely! Sonia, your list please?

Sonia: I went the Mindful route. Is that okay?

Leader: Oh goody! Mindfulness and Self-Care go together like bagel and cream cheese, which you should also have in your kit by the way. Please continue…

Sonia: Mindful Yoga mat, Mindful Meditation book, Mindful Crystal, Mindful Meditation CD, Mindful SunscreenMindful Money, Mindful Bra, Mindful Pillow, Mindful Birth Control, Mindful Michael Kors Purse, Mindful Nutella…

Leader: Terrific. You’ve discovered the main secret to Self-Care — just put the word “Mindful” in front of anything you desire and it’s automatically gonna be healthy and get our approval.

Sonia: Except “Mindful Children.” Somehow it doesn’t work with kids.

Leader: Whatever. Now let’s all recite the Self-Care first commandment together. Ready? “Caring for myself is not self-indulgent, it IS self-preservation.”

Suzanne: What about, “I think, therefore I am?”

Leader: Definitely not. You’re in the wrong place. The Self-Aware Support Group meets in the room down the hall.

Stacey: How about, “You can’t love someone else until you can love yourself?”

Leader: Sorry, you don’t belong here either. You’ll find the Self-Esteem Support Group meets in this same room but on Thursdays.

Stephanie: I have a question. I keep a diary, light lots of candles, get hand massages, eat avocado toast, go cloud-watching (I once saw one shaped like Gwyneth Paltrow!), unplug my cellphone daily and breathe deeply while smelling roses, but still I’m completely miserable. Are some people just not good at this Self-Care stuff?

Leader: Security! Come quick! Code 5, I repeat Code 5! A Self-Sabotager has snuck into Self-Care! Calgon, take her away!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Self-Care is completely responsible for society’s narcissistic behavior or that we’re all returning to the “Me” generation, but perhaps “Self-Care” could include things like volunteering at a retirement center, adopting a homeless pet, buying the guy behind you a Starbucks, and leaving a comment on my blog. Now wouldn’t those things also make YOU feel good??

— Stephanie Lewis

Stephanie D. Lewis regularly contributes to Huffington Post as well as pens a humor blog, “Once Upon Your Prime,” where she tries to “Live Happily Ever Laughter.” She’s also a regular contributor to Jewlarious where she writes zany Jewish humor and was named one of 2014 Voices of the Year by BlogHer. Her 2008 book, Lullabies & Alibis, is the tale of marriage, motherhood, mistakes and madness.  As a single mother of six, she knows a lot about the madness. She’s supervised potty training and driver’s training simultaneously. Too many accidents. A live-in housekeeper?  Nah, she’ll take a live-in psychotherapist.

Stranger of the bride

A little hint about remaining inconspicuous when crashing a wedding reception: It’s probably best not to catch the bridal bouquet.

The bouquet toss was the furthest thing from my mind when I cruised party hall parking lots on a Friday night. Seeking another experience for my year of new adventures, I simply anticipated a nice meal, a few drinks and the opportunity to celebrate the wedded bliss of a wonderful couple. Sure, I wasn’t invited, and I’d never met either of them. Minor details.

Crashing a wedding might have been more fathomable if I were 21, accompanied by a group of friends, and half-plastered. At 52, alone, and sober? Not so much.

I scored with a full parking lot at the third place I passed, one of the most upscale reception halls in town. Yet when I stepped into the lobby, the first thing I spotted was a poster with a huge photograph and the words, “Rest in Peace.”

Since when did a party hall host a wake on a Friday night? I stepped back, contemplating my next move. And then, I spied a bigger banner, reading “Congratulations,” along with a photo of a happy young couple. Apparently, the first poster was only their memoriam for a recently deceased loved one.

My shoulders drooped at this tearjerker tribute. But I was alive and on hand to take part in the celebration! It seemed so wrong, yet so right. I ignored my weak legs and wandered in. I’d morphed into a 10-year-old schoolgirl, wondering just how much I could get away with.

I made a beeline to the bar — a rational move. No plastic cups for my fabulous, newly wedded BFFs. This was a classy kind of gig. I was pretty certain I would fit right in — if I hadn’t been some freeloading stranger walking in off the street.

I wasn’t a true freeloader, though. I had brought a congratulatory card with a gift certificate enclosed. I dropped it ceremoniously on the gift table and slowly swiveled my head around, hoping people might note this validation of my attendance.

As I saw the line forming for the dessert table, I realized I missed dinner. If only I actually had been invited, I might have known when the event started.

I joined a group on the outdoor patio. No one questioned me or my relationship to the bride and groom. I was a tad disappointed I didn’t need to conjure up any of the pre-fabricated stories I’d prepared on the drive there.

While enjoying a conversation with a friendly guy, I turned to see the bride approaching us, looking eager to join the discussion. I backed away, avoiding her glance, and headed back inside.

As I watched people swinging it on the dance floor, I deliberated asking someone to dance. The thought terrified me, which made it all the more an obligatory move.

I hadn’t danced with a stranger in how long? A decade? As my stomach rolled, the DJ made the last call for all single women to join in the bouquet toss. I realized a shot of the backs of a group of unidentifiable women, lunging for the spray of flowers, would be a terrific photo op. I hurried over, stationing myself a good 20 yards behind the line of waiting women. I pulled out my iPhone just as I heard the DJ begin his countdown.

Before I could manage to find my new phone’s camera setting, I heard a collective rush of shouts, and then — silence. I looked up to see the crowd of single women, as well as every wedding guest in the room, staring at me.

I followed the direction of their glances. I looked down. Apparently, the bride was a former softball pitcher with a hell of an arm. Her throw landed the bouquet far past its intended aim. It was lying two inches from my right foot.

The room had fallen so quiet you could hear my chin drop. All eyes were focused on me. I had no choice, really. I picked up the bouquet, clutched it and smiled stupidly.

As cameras flashed, my heart rate quickened. If all went according to normal wedding reception protocol, I knew I’d soon find myself posing for more photos: with a garter-snatching stranger feeling his way up my thigh. It was a halfway appealing notion, but I was pretty sure I’d rather salvage the bit of anonymity I had left.

A little girl came to my rescue. She tugged at my blouse, pointed at the bouquet, and said, “Can I have that?”

I smiled down at my small savior and said, “Honey, it’s all yours.” I thrust the flowers in her hands and walked straight to the exit.

Although I didn’t remain inconspicuous, I figured I did stay anonymous, at least until a discovery the next day when I posted a story and a photo online. Here’s another little hint about wedding-crashing: It’s best to not inadvertently be Facebook friends with the owner of the reception hall.

My anonymity was completely blown after I agreed, months later, to be interviewed about my experience on the TV news show 20/20. When the episode aired, I found myself included with criminals and miscreants in a segment titled The Moochers. I was relieved that, mostly due to my gift, I appeared to be the moral of this story.

“If you must crash a wedding,” the voiceover advised, “crash with class.”

Feeling redeemed, I managed to connect with the bride and groom, Mike and Helen (who was indeed a former softball player). They proved to be a good-natured couple, who remembered my unsigned card and gift. I’d chosen that card very thoughtfully. The pre-printed text read: “A toast to good friends: To a great couple, to your love, your future, and your happiness… and to the friendship that will keep us close always.”

Below, I scrawled: “Thanks for an evening none of us will ever forget.”

Wasn’t that the truth.

— Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

Sherry Stanfa-Stanley is a writer, humorist and squeamish adventurer. She writes about her midlife escapades and other topics on Facebook (The 52 at 52 Project) and also blogs at www.sherrystanfa-stanley.com. Her memoir, Finding My Badass Self, debuts in August. By day, Sherry attempts to respectably represent her alma mater as a communication director at the University of Toledo.

I’d like to check you for ticks

Flea and tick season is officially upon us and reports claim that this is going to be the worst year ever.

That’s bad news for pet owners and anyone who loves the outdoors.

This is also extremely bad for me.

Somehow, I have managed to raise three boys who played with worms and snakes, yet are deathly afraid of ticks.

Last night, Marc let out a blood-curdling scream.

I rose from a deep sleep fearing for the worst, almost running head on into Rocky and Kevin in the hallway.

Marc was standing on his bed wearing nothing but his underwear.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Mom! There’s a tick!” Marc screamed.

Kevin and Rocky were right behind me.

“A TICK? Where?” Kevin yelled.

Rocky replied, “If we don’t find it, I am NOT sleeping here.”

“Good idea!” Marc said, “Let’s go to a hotel!”

“EVERYONE CALM DOWN!” I yelled.

“Okay, where was the last place that you saw it?” I asked.

Marc replied, “Near the bathroom.”

We all began to search for the tiny insect that was standing between us and a good night’s sleep.

“I don’t see any tick. Let’s all just go to bed.” I instructed.

“Are you kidding me?” Kevin bellowed.

Rocky chimed in, “This is totally gross!”

“Mom!” Marc cried, “We could all get Lyme Disease!”

I was longing for my pillow and dreading what seemed to be the beginning of a ludicrous all-nighter.

Suddenly, I blurted out the first thing that came into my mind.

“Okay, we’ll all sleep in the living room. I think I have some spray for ticks.”

My boys were a flurry of commotion… blankets, pillows and slamming bedroom doors.

I grabbed a bottle of Febreze from under the kitchen sink.

“Are you sure that kills ticks, Mom?” Marc asked.

“Positive.” I replied, (okay, I’m reaching here, but I like my sleep.) I vigorously doused every room in the house with Febreze.

We all settled in on the living room floor.

After much talk about the dreaded ticks, all three of my boys were fast asleep and I somehow managed to fall asleep myself.

Freezing and uncomfortable, I awoke to the overpowering smell of Febreze and the windows covered in condensation.

Kevin stirred and asked, “Mom, what are you doing?”

“Why is the air conditioning set for 40 degrees?” I inquired, as I turned it off completely.

“I was trying to kill the tick,” Kevin replied.

Still shivering and achy from the few hours of sleep that I managed to get on the living room floor, I prepared my morning coffee.

Better make it extra strong, this is going to be a long tick season… and I better stock up on more Febreze.

— Erin Cooper Reed

Erin Cooper Reed is a domestic violence writer and public speaker. She has written for six Domestic Violence organizations, including the Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the Charlotte Court System in North Carolina. She has posted inspirational guest blogs at MindMovies.com and been published in local newspapers. Her writing is often used in journals and websites, including the Connecticut Historical Society’s newsletter. Erin currently resides in Connecticut where she writes a humorous and inspirational blog about the trials of raising three teenage boys as a single mother. Her blog can be found at www.mylifeiswear.com. She can be reached at contactmylifeiswear@yahoo.com.

Funny dog story

When I entered the kitchen around 7 a.m., my husband glared at me with bleary eyes marked with half-moon circles. I poured my coffee and said, “What’s wrong?”

“I was hoping to get a full night’s sleep last night because I have a busy day. Didn’t you hear the dog whine at 4:30 this morning?”

“No, I didn’t hear him or I would’ve gotten up.”

“He whimpered, whined, then he yelped and barked. He needed to go out.”

“So you’re angry that I didn’t hear him.”

“No, I threw on my white terry cloth robe and I couldn’t find my slippers so I put on my flip-flops. The dog tore down the steps to the front door and I followed him and grabbed his leash from the closet. When my flip flops hit the tile foyer, I slid on something slimy and my feet flew up; I landed on my back.

“Are you ok?”

“I’m bruised and tired.”

“What was on the tile?”

“Yellow dog vomit, a big puddle. Don’t worry about cleaning the floor. I had lain there a minute and my robe absorbed it. I rose, and when I opened the wooden entry door the dog pushed the storm door open and ran.”

“He slipped out? We never let that happen. Thank goodness no one was out driving.”

” I walked the neighborhood with nothing on except my robe, underwear and flip-flops. Clouds had blocked the moon, and I navigated using our floodlights and street lights. I couldn’t find our Labrador retriever, and when I returned home he was standing on the front lawn panting and wagging his tail so hard that his back shimmied. He had stolen six neighbors’ newspapers and scattered them across our front lawn.”

“So, training him to get the newspaper was a success. He must have felt euphoric when he had retrieved the first paper and didn’t know when to stop,” I said.

“I had walked our court with barf streaked down my back and I pitched papers to the homes without them. Some neighbors may be surprised to find a journal on their lawn that they hadn’t ordered.”

“At least the dog seems ok, so we don’t have to take him to the vet. Since we never let him out alone, he shouldn’t be able to nab any more papers.  I’m sorry that your day started at 4:30. On the bright side, the dog helped you relive your youth as a paperboy. But, next time wake me. ”

— Dottie Lopez

Dottie Lopez is a blogger who loves to travel and cook. She and her husband dine out weekly and travel to places like the Caribbean, Boca Raton, New Orleans, Boston, New York, Barcelona and Paris, collecting recipes on the way. She graduated from Loyola College with an English degree, and took a course at Towson University that emphasized writing restaurant reviews. The Baltimore Post Examiner published one of her reviews.

Blue Ridge blues

In my last piece, I mentioned that my eldest daughter participates in equestrian competitions, seemingly the most expensive and inconvenient activity available to inflict upon fathers of teenaged girls.

I also mentioned that her riding team has continued to advance to higher (and more costly) levels of competition — despite my attempts at sabotage by replacing all of their riding boots with knitting needles. (I even offered to provide them with yarn and purchase t-shirts emblazoned with a new team name like The Doily Daredevils or The Afghan Aces.)

Rejecting my generous offers, though, her team managed to earn a trip to the National Hunt Seat Finals in Lexington, Virginia, nestled in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and bordered by the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains. Naturally, we were thrilled for her and excited to take the entire family to watch the competition and do a little sightseeing. We were also confident that our three daughters would understand that in order for us to pay for the trip, we would all be selling our plasma every week for the next 60 years.

One benefit of this trip was that we would be visiting a part of the country that is rich with history. In fact, our first night in Virginia was spent in a historically quaint little town at an extremely historical hotel. Keep in mind that when applied to hotels, the word “historical” is synonymous with “creepy” and is used as an excuse to charge you more than you would normally be willing to pay for a night in complete discomfort. This hotel had a very historical history as an early twentieth-century hospital, and it possessed a very historical smell — like my grandmother’s boudoir. Our room had a very historical stain on the ceiling and a very historical mattress on the bed. (I’m pretty sure it was from the original tuberculosis ward of the hospital.) Each room also came with a complimentary haunting, and the historical lamp on the nightstand featured a disturbing porcelain cherub with only the jagged stump of an arm — which I was sure he would use to stab me in the neck when he came to life later that night.

Having survived our night in the Dust Bunny Inn and enjoyed a continental breakfast of bagels and coffee cake (which tasted very historical), the next leg of our trip involved an afternoon visit to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson — the American president famous for gracing that bill you don’t see very often because everyone keeps it in their top dresser drawer with their Dinky the Dodo Bird Beanie Baby and other worthless junk that we thought would be valuable by now. (I’m willing to let Dinky go for another $2 bill if you’re interested.)

The mountainous scenery on our drive to Monticello was spectacular, and I encouraged my daughters to look out of the windows to witness the splendor of nature. They were so amazed by what they saw that they said, “Cool,” monotonously in unison and immediately went back to their iPhones to continue an edifying line of questioning with Siri. Below is an excerpt of their conversation:

Girls: Siri, have you ever tooted?

Siri: Who, me?

Girls: Uncontrollable giggling

Girls: Siri, blah, blah, blah!

Siri: Yah dah dah

Girls: Even more uncontrollable giggling accompanied by spastic
snorting and gasping for breath.

Along with the educational enrichment my daughters were gaining in the back seat as they ensured our placement on a harassment watch list by the Apple Corporation, I was especially pleased that they would be able to experience such a famous historical American landmark. On the shuttle bus to the grounds of Monticello, I explained to them the importance of visiting the home of the American president whose face is not only on the $2 bill, but also on all of the nickels I steal from their piggy banks when I need to play the claw machine at Walmart. I could tell that my little talk with them had an impact because my youngest daughter lasted an entire two minutes on the tour before she asked if it was almost over. My middle daughter (who aspires to be a professional shopper someday — for herself and with my money) asked if we could skip the tour altogether and go straight to the gift shop.

One historical aspect of Jefferson’s home that they did appreciate was the central air conditioning because on the walk from the shuttle into the house, they both threatened to evaporate if they got any hotter. Because I’m more serious about history than my children, my favorite part of the tour was to the basement area of the home where the original historical privies are located. (The tour guide was less than amused when I sat on one and asked if he had a magazine I could borrow.)

This first part of our trip had already been memorable, and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us at the actual horse show. We were even able to take a brief jaunt through the souvenir shops of Washington, D.C. before our flight home, but that’s another story, and you’ll be glad to know that it involves no tooting at all — at least not from Siri.

– Jase Graves

Jason (Jase) Graves is a new writer for the EBWW blog and a finalist in the 2017 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ column contest in the humor-writing category. He writes a regular column for The Kilgore News Herald and blogs for The Longview News Journal.  He is a married father of three daughters and writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective in his personal blog, “What’s Wrong With Daddy?” Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.

Watching ‘Route 66’ from NC 66…so many years ago

Besides a place where animals are kept, menagerie also means, “An odd or eclectic assortment of things.” That would describe our family room. Or basement. Or great room. Or whatever they call the place where people hang out after dinner these days.

Our current “gathering room” is three or four times larger than the den I remember off highway 66. This was NC 66, which connects Kernersville to Horneytown, about nine miles. It was not U.S. Route 66, which connects Chicago to Los Angeles, about 2,000 miles…and the TV show by the same name.

Mother, and my two brothers and me, often watched “Route 66,” starring Martin Milner and George Maharis, on our little TV in our little den, among its assortment of odd and eclectic things.

On the knotty pine wall above the couch was a picture of “Jesus Knocking At The Door,” surrounded by pictures of the Reid family. As the years went by, Mother kept updating the wall to show pictures of her grandchildren, and my latest wife and me. She once threatened to start pasting a picture of my new wife over the picture of my old wife.

Built-in bookcases flanked a window at one end of the den, which was to the right of our 17-inch B&W TV from Sears. The bookcase housed a set of Grolier encyclopedias (we couldn’t afford World Book), several Reader’s Digest condensed books, medical encyclopedias, more Reid photos, a photo of a family I didn’t recognize (I think it came with the frame), someone’s brass baby shoes, a jack-in-the-box and a pair of praying hands.

The other end of the den featured our “entertainment center,” consisting of a turntable (beside a stack of Elvis albums) and a Zenith radio. Eight-track tapes hadn’t come along yet.

By comparison, our modern “menagerie” features computers, iPads, printers, big-screen TV, a Bose Wave radio/CD player, photos (including my current wife and me), a few of my journalism awards, books by George Orwell to George Carlin, and an eclectic assortment of things including an empty Scotch bottle from World War II, a duck decoy, a Super Bowl trophy (from my fantasy team), a “Ray’s 19th Hole” sign, a Dodgers clock, a Jack Russell terrier figurine, a microwave oven and a piano no one can play.

And then there’s the toy Corvette. When I close my eyes I see Martin Milner at the wheel, on Route 66. And Mother and Jerry and Bob and me huddled around the TV watching, in the little den in the little house on NC 66…so many years ago.

— Raymond Reid

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

Or best offer

Our town of Oreland has an “online yard sale” Facebook page.

Folks post pictures of items they are trying to sell, and people respond to them if interested. I’ve seen jewelry, bunk beds, sports equipment and clothing snapped up eagerly, and it’s tempting to try and unload some of our treasures this way. But so far I have not participated because I still have fresh recollections of many “real” yard sales we have had. We’ve had these every couple of years, because we have never learned.

It was such a good idea! Taking things we didn’t need and turning them into cash! We would spend the night before each sale dusting everything off, labeling and pricing to beat the band. We were sure everybody was going to LOVE the assortment of costumes that had been donated to us for our theater company and we couldn’t use. Think about it, who wouldn’t kill for a giant bear suit? My collection of second-string cookbooks, including The Canadiana Cookbook, (which, if memory serves, had rather too many recipes featuring maple syrup) was also up for sale. As the evening wore on, we always became greedy and started to price things higher and higher. My mother’s wedding gifts — sterling silver platters so heavy they could double as murder weapons? Ka-ching! Sterling is worth a fortune, isn’t it? The Madame Alexander dolls? $50 each! No, $75!! We went to bed with visions of dollar signs dancing in our heads.

In the cold light of dawn, we set out our card tables and arranged our bounty. Everything looked a bit shabbier than it had the night before, but we were optimistic!! The first hint of trouble came before 8 a.m. when the “early birds” arrived. These canny shoppers canvassed the area every Saturday morning looking for bargains. They usually had specific items they were seeking, from musical instruments to vintage LPs. Even when we offered hot coffee, they passed right by our little assortment of stuff.

As the hours crept along customerless, we were reminded of why we always did so poorly with yard sales — our stuff is either no good to begin with, or so badly maintained as to be almost worthless. In late afternoon, the giant bear suit would go out on a table marked “Free.” My Canadiana Cookbook found a home with my wonderful Canadian neighbor, who most likely purchased it out of pity. No one wanted the Madame Alexander dolls; NO ONE wanted the tarnished sterling silver platters. In the end, we’d wasted an entire day and made just enough money to get a takeout pizza (no extra toppings) after we lugged things back inside.

Like the pain of labor, the memories would eventually fade, and we’d find ourselves doing it all over again.

My sister Carolyn has always made a bundle at her yard sales, perhaps because EVERYTHING she and her hubby Rob own is in mint condition. Who wouldn’t do well selling a beautiful drum set and still-in-the-wrapper DVDs? It seems our daughter Julie is a chip off that block because she is registered on the Oreland yard sale page and is doing very well. The old rabbit pen, ill-fitting shoes, never-opened nail polish (yes!) — all have been claimed quickly. Julie urges me to sell online as well, so the other day I rounded up some odds and ends to photograph and post. Haven’t done it yet, though, because I’m sure our every knick-knack bears the Seyfried curse and will languish, embarrassingly unsold, forever.

Someday I’ll go for it and mark down the few items we have that are worth anything, just for the thrill of a successful transaction. And afterward, as we stand counting our cash in our empty dining room (table and 8 chairs! $20! Or Best Offer!), we will figure out if we made enough money to go out and buy back our own table and (8) chairs, which will no doubt have been marked way, way up by a savvy yard saler. We will not pay a penny more than $200! After all, we have our pride!

— Elise Seyfried

Elise Seyfried is the author of three books of humorous spiritual essays, a columnist for a Philadelphia newspaper and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Metropolis, Guideposts Magazine, Grown and Flown and many other publications. Elise is also a church worker, mom of five and grandma of two.

Reflections of Erma