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Little old ladies in great big cars

She may be a stereotype, but like the elusive Bigfoot, she does exist … the Little Old Lady in the Great Big Car. I encountered her in the parking lot at McDonald’s last week and, true to stereotype, she used a parking space and a half to dock her boat.

Here’s how we met:

I had an unusual half hour to myself one morning and decided to indulge in a characteristic Lynn-lapse: coffee and calories at Mickey Dee’s. I enjoyed my morning paper, gobbled the McMuffin and sipped my coffee. When I was done, I tidied up my table then headed out the door with a nearly full cup of coffee.

I am not a fast drinker of coffee. Under the right circumstances,  a cup of coffee can last me for an hour or more. I don’t mind the gradual transition from hot to lukewarm to cold.  The cooling process is part of my coffee ritual.

So, leaving McDonald’s I had a steaming styrofoam cup as my to-go treat.

When I walked outside, I noticed  big blue boat of a car parked next to my modest tan sedan. I paused at the rear bumper of my car. Two reasons for the pause: 1) I could not go any farther and 2) I could not figure out what to do next.

As I get older, I find that it takes me longer to assimilate information and decide what to do next. I stared at the two cars: big blue boat … modest mid-size.  Eventually, my brain put the pieces together. The space between my car and the big blue boat was so small that I could not squeeze into the space and open the door on the driver’s side of my car.

“Okay, what are you going to do now?” my brain asked itself. During the ensuing pause, my brain gathered more information … the driver of the big blue boat was exiting her vehicle. Sadly, she reinforced my stereotype.

Out of the driver’s door of the big blue boat stepped a very small, very old lady. Her hair was dyed red and curled tight. She had applied rouge and lipstick with happy abandon. The expression on her face reminded me of Aunt Clara on Bewitched, befuddled and content.

I watched her totter into McDonald’s, oblivious to the dilemma she had created for me.

My brain returned to assessing the situation and seeking solutions. Gradually it dawned on me that I would have to enter my car through the passenger’s side  and crawl over the gear shift into the driver’s seat. This, I thought, should be easy.

I opened the passenger’s door, placed my coffee cup into the coffee holder and plopped into the passenger’s seat. From there, all I had to do was hoist my body over the center panel … gear shift, cup holders and various amenities provided by the savvy Saturn engineers.

I counted to three and hoisted … not quite past the center panel. Actually, I sat on my coffee cup. My verbal response to sitting on hot coffee was not socially acceptable.

From the hot, coffee-saturated center panel, I hoisted myself once again and landed in the driver’s seat. My coat was soaked; my pants were soaked; my center console was soaked; the passenger’s seat was soaked. Aunt Clara was enjoying her Egg McMuffin.

Perhaps that episode was payback for my believing that all little old ladies drive great big cars. Certainly there are many women, not unlike myself, who drive small and/or modest mid-size cars. We blend into traffic and into parking spaces. We travel unnoticed.

Maybe there is only one little old Aunt Clara in a big blue boat, stalking me and amusing herself by annoying me. I’m just not sure. I don’t think clearly after sitting in hot coffee.

—Lynn Albright

Lynn Albright is a South Dakota author. Her career has included writing for newspapers and education organizations. Now sort-of-retired, she is working to overcome her distrust of technology and start blogging. In addition to wrestling with technology, Lynn is a proud member of the Baby Boom generation and is working on her first novel.

When is a footlong not a foot long?

(This humorous essay by Nick Thomas originally appeared in the Mountain Democrat on Feb. 22. Reposted by permission of the author.)

When is a Footlong not a Foot Long?

The answer, apparently, is when it’s a Subway sandwich. It seems these tasty, elongated snacks haven’t been measuring up to vigilant customers’ expectations lately.

Armed with their trusty yardsticks, pernickety patrons around the country have resolutely sunk the Sub’s promotional promise of being one foot long (or exactly 12 inches for the dimensionally challenged). Many of the $5 Subway sandwiches have been “weighing in” at a stunted 11 inches.

Turning to social media, some disgruntled customers have been content to merely voice their outrage, while others hope to extract compensation through litigation. A class-action lawsuit against Subway seeks fast-food justice for the receding rolls.

For me, however, the revelation poses more evocative questions about the advertising claims of other fast food favorites.

For instance, does this mean for the past three decades Ronald McDonald has been peddling a Quarter Pounder that doesn’t contain exactly 0.25 lbs of hamburger meat?

And should we now have doubts about the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise? Perhaps Colonel Sanders’ Original Recipe of 11 herbs and spices has been covertly trimmed to a meager 10 to reduce costs. In fact, I’ve long been suspicious of KFC advertising ever since I learned that founder Harland Sanders wasn’t even a real military colonel. (It was an honorary title given by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.)

Don’t think Hardees can escape unscathed from this shameless parade of consumer swindle, either. Their Memphis BBQ Six Dollar Thickburger actually costs (depending on the state taxes) around $6.30. That’s fraud Hardees, pure fraud.

Better lawyer-up if you plan to visit an In-N-Out Burger, and have a hankering for their Double-Double cheeseburgers.  Because here, two times two does not equal four meat patties. One “double” refers to the meat, while the other “double” refers to the cheese slices. That’s just plain wrong.

And what recourse does the consumer have if it turns out that the Dirty Rice side dish sold by the Bojangles’ chain is actually clean?

Along these lines, here’s a shocking revelation about the Denny’s breakfast menu: their Senior Omelette doesn’t contain any real seniors at all, just bacon!

Will the culinary cops ever investigate these apparent breaches of fast food marketing?

While we’re at it, let’s send the irony police to raid Dunkin’ Donuts for having a nutrition section on their web site.

And perhaps SWAT teams should probe a potential hazard at Burger King – specifically, the Whopper Jr. Sandwich Meal. Theoretically, the opposing terms “Whopper” and “Jr” could function dangerously like matter combining with antimatter, generating primal culinary forces that could cancel each other out violently, and detonate during digestion.

But returning to the mischief afoot at Subway.

The company has now publically addressed the Footlong fraud and expressed regret for “any instance where we did not fully deliver on our promise to our customers.”

Despite their contrite tone, Subway’s corporate penitence hasn’t quelled the wrath of customers accusing the company of selling them short.

In fact, when my last sandwich turned out to be a runt, I first considered tossing my Sub into the street in front of the store and publically protesting by smashing it with a two-by-four (which, by the way, are actually1½ by 3½ by inches – watch out Lowes, the lumber lawyers may be heading your way).

Fortunately, a cooler head prevailed. I resolved the shriveled sandwich issue without destroying a perfectly good lunch while still expressing my displeasure to Subway. Anticipating my $5 Footlong would only be 11 inches, I simply handed the salesperson $4, and headed for the door.

— Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas’ features and columns have appeared in more than 270 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. Read more of his work on his blog, “Along These Lines: A Little Silly Seriousness, in a Seriously Silly World.”

Paris in the spring

The 2013 Paris Book Festival has issued a call for entries to its annual event honoring the best of international publishing.

The 2013 Paris Book Festival will consider non-fiction, fiction, biography/autobiography, children’s books, compilations/anthologies, young adult, how-to, e-books, cookbooks, audio/spoken word, wild card (anything goes), photography/art, poetry, unpublished, spiritual and romance works. There is no date of publication deadline and entries can be in French or English.

Grand prize is $1,500 cash and a flight to Paris for a gala awards ceremony in late May.

Submitted works will be judged by a panel of industry experts using the following criteria:

1) General excellence and the author’s passion for telling a good story.

2) The potential of the work to reach a wider audience.

FESTIVAL RULES: Paris Book Festival submissions cannot be returned. Each entry must contain the official entry form, including your e-mail address and contact telephone number. All shipping and handling costs must be borne by entrants.

NOTIFICATION AND DEADLINES: Each entry will be confirmed via e-mail and the winning entries will be announced on the competition’s web site. Because of the anticipated high volume of entries, the organizers can only respond to e-mail inquiries.

DEADLINE: Submissions in each category must be received by the close of business on April 25, 2013. Winners in each category will be notified by e-mail and on the web site. Please note that judges read and consider submissions on an ongoing basis, comparing early entries with later submissions at our meetings.

Entry forms are available online at parisbookfestival.com or may be faxed/e-mailed to you. Please send an e-mail for fax requests. Applications must be accompanied by a non-refundable entry fee of $50 in the form of a check, money order or PayPal online payment in U.S. dollars for each submission. Multiple submissions are permitted, but each entry must be accompanied by a separate form and entry fee.

For contest details and frequently asked questions, visit the festival’s website. more information, send an email to ParisBookFestival@sbcglobal.net or call 323-665-8080.

Lost and found

(This essay appears in Not Your Mother’s Book…On Dogs. Reposted by permission of the author.)

Murphy’s Law — as it applies to dogs — decrees that mischievious things will only happen when Alpha Mom is on the phone, in the shower or otherwise occupied. A corollary to this is, the lower the probability of an event actually happening, the higher the price tag for the owner.

At first glance, the latest canine caper appeared more competitive than costly—you might even say a dog-eat-dog game of chess: two large canines circling the family chess board while two smaller dogs in the peanut gallery egged them on. The Collie appeared as if she were about to nose a chess piece to a more strategic location on the pink-and-white onyx board, while the yellow Lab marked time by thumping his tail obsessively as he deliberated his rebuttal. Meanwhile, the two Schnauzers sent cryptic messages to each other with their eyebrows while the Maine Coon, our sole cat, reported for her job as eyewitness.

When your animal family consists of four dogs and one cat, silence is usually a scarce commodity. When it lingers too long, worry becomes the operative word. So after several hours of unsolicited quiet, I peeked, suspiciously, out of my home office. Right away, I sensed something amiss. No bloody paw prints or broken lamps, but sure enough, one of the dogs had pushed past a three-foot-high, heavy cardboard barrier I had erected to block them from the living room. My longtime fail-safe security measure had let me down.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. Our chess board remained on the coffee table, but chess pieces littered the carpet as if a band of robbers had ransacked the room. When I finally mustered the courage to assess the damage, I saw the usual suspects gazing back at me with their all-too-familiar goofy grins. As if in a police lineup, they endeavored to deflect blame onto the other guy. Heads pivoting, legs shuffling back and forth, they struggled to look noncommittal. But I knew from past experience that appearances could be deceiving. The ho-hum attitude was a blatant attempt at denial. They knew the living room was off limits — hadn’t I read the riot act to them several times already?

What with their records of past crimes, I was sorely tempted to throw the book at them — dispense with a trial of their peers, invoke the three-times-you’re-out law and sentence them to life in the slammer. A daily diet of kibble and water — no biscuits or cookies for those rascals — sounded about right. But first, I would I prolong their agony a bit and investigate the crime scene. Like any other television CSI professional, I ascertained that except for the chess set (obviously torn asunder by a tsunami), the only visible damage was the ton of multicolored dog hairs pasted onto the furniture.

An hour later, I was still searching. Except for discovering some old newspapers squashed beneath the sofa cushions and a few Tootsie Roll wrappers, I was slowly getting nowhere in my investigation. Plus, my activities were beginning to resemble housework — something I did reluctantly, if at all.

It was then I had an epiphany — of sorts. The problem was not what the accused felons had left behind, but rather what they had absconded with. I knew enough about the game of chess to deduce that the white rook was missing and unaccounted for. In what I hoped was my best law enforcement and politically correct voice, I asked, “OK, which one of you critters was nutty enough to ingest a chess piece?”

“Chauncey,” the Lab, was the most likely candidate. His 9-month-old rap sheet already stretched several leash-lengths long, warning of an inherited tendency to devour everything in sight. At current count, he had chewed several ballpoint pens, gnawed through two lawn sprinkler heads and wolfed down a pair of raw chicken breasts. And that was just in one week. The word “mischievious” did not do him justice.

So needless to say I wound up in my vet’s waiting room at 5 p.m. on that Friday night, awaiting the results of X-rays. While leafing through an old copy of Cat Fancy, I was imagining the worst: emergency surgery to the tune of several thousand dollars. Meanwhile, the dog was throwing himself a pity party. With his hindquarters tucked under my chair and his paws propped under his head, he looked as if some bully of a Great Dane had come along and swiped his best bone. A closer observation revealed my Lab puppy was really a study in contrasts. Although his eyes said, “Help, I’m a prisoner of my own stupidity,” his mouth seemed frozen in an impish smile, as if boasting of rare accomplishments.

“Wait until you see this,” I heard the vet say in an amazed tone from the back of his office. In my haste to confront the consequences of Chauncey’s latest crime, I nearly tripped over my prisoner. An 11″ x 14″ image of the canine digestive tract illuminated the room. Toward the bottom of the X-ray, in what I took to be Chauncey’s stomach, I could discern the unmistakable outline of a miniature castle. Sure enough, there was the missing rook. Without medical intervention, I knew my 60-pound pup could not eliminate the imported hand-carved chess piece.

“What do we do now?” I asked weakly.

Looking at my ghostly pale face, the vet could tell I was in no shape to deal with a four-figure surgical procedure, followed by a lengthy recuperation with a young active patient. “I think we can get him to barf it up,” he said, with a devilish smile.

Fifteen minutes later, I, too, was chuckling. Thanks to the wonders of fast-working emetics, the accused had taken responsibility for his crime and confessed. He probably did not feel any better for it, but I certainly did. At $125, divesting the cat — no — dog burglar of his take was a real bargain. Besides, law and order had prevailed.

Standing behind the reception room counter waving the bill, the veterinary technician resembled a trial judge about to rap her gavel. Smiling, she handed over the recently recovered chess piece, which I hurriedly jammed into my pocket. I mumbled, “Case closed.”

As my faithful friend and I exited through the double doors, I thought once again of Murphy’s Law and other everyday axioms, such as the fallacious, “lightning-doesn’t-strike-twice” one. That’s when I knew tomorrow I’d be making a pink-and-white chess set deposit at Goodwill. Call it crime prevention.

— Janice Arenofsky

Janice Arenofsky is a freelance writer from Scottsdale, Ariz. Her humor pieces have been published in national venues such as Verbatim, Cats and Kittens, HumorOutcasts.com and Purrr.

A Tina Fey moment

(Reposted by permission of the author, Nancy Berk. This piece first appeared on HumorOutcasts.com on Feb. 12.)

The countdown to college admission is filled with anxiety. As a parent, I’ve been through it with both of my children and lived to tell about it. In fact, I documented the experience, humor and strategy in a book. College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get Into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind is a parent survival guide for the college-bound journey. It’s always easier to talk about college admission once the experience is behind you. Little did I know that, after the book’s publication, I’d be wrapped up in another exciting admission decision.

In early 2012, I was contacted to sign a release for my book to appear in Admission, a feature film starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. After confirming this wasn’t a hoax by mean-spirited strangers or family pranksters, my shock turned to excitement. College Bound and Gagged might be in a movie. True, it wasn’t like I had been offered a cameo, but in many ways it was better. Authors become attached to their work, so when people recognize our books it’s like complimenting our children. Besides, my book cover would fare much better in HD than I would.

I’ve often compared the college-bound process to childbirth. Both include plenty of labor, anxiety and know-it-alls telling you what to do. My new admission (the movie) situation wasn’t as stressful, but there have been tense moments. First, the countdown to acceptance (or, in this case, the verdict regarding book inclusion) was longer than a pregnancy. Your mind can cover a lot of positive and negative ground in 11 months.

What if the book is accepted? What if it ends up on the cutting room floor?

Maybe the book cover will have a close-up! What if the production assistant spills coffee on it right before the scene?

Maybe Tina Fey and Paul Rudd will say something funny about it. What if Tina Fey and Paul Rudd make fun of it? (I now would be happy with either of these options.)

When I’m done with the optimism/pessimism imagery, I spend my spare time compulsively checking IMDb for delivery updates. After all, it is the film industry’s sonogram.

Admission opens in theaters nationwide March 22, but thankfully, last week I was given an early admission opportunity when Focus Features included me on its preview screening list. My excitement was tempered only by the pressure of this event. I thought Admission would require more concentration than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy if I was to spot a fleeting image of College Bound and Gagged. I imagined all of the possibilities as I contemplated the higher ed version of Where’s Waldo?

What if I’m laughing so hard, I miss a glimpse of the book?

What if I snooze like I did during Lincoln?

What if I drop my popcorn and miss the big moment?

What if I need a bathroom break?

Yes, I knew enough about the film industry to realize that scenes change and stuff happens, especially in post-production where editors trim out the nonsense to make magic. And at the risk of sounding all Oscar-y, I really was happy that College Bound and Gagged made it onto someone’s radar whether it made it on the big screen or not. And of course, I took solace in the fact that you’re not out of the game until you scour the DVD outtakes.

Spoiler Alert: You’ll have to wait until March to see Admission, but my exciting news is that College Bound and Gagged got accepted!!! You can watch the trailer here, but you’ll have to wait for the release to see the book’s close-up (If only I could get that close to Paul Rudd and Tina Fey).

P.S. You’ll love the movie. Only Tina Fey and Paul Rudd (and an amazing cast and crew) could make parents want to sit through college admission all over again.

— Nancy Berk, Ph.D.

Nancy Berk is a clinical psychologist, author of College Bound and Gagged and a blogger for The Huffington Post, USA Today College, MORE magazine and TravelingMom.com. A columnist, podcast host (“Whine at 9,” “College Mom Minute”) and speaker, Nancy has used her comedic touch on stage in places like TEDx and 30 Rock. She served on the 2012 EBWW faculty.

Self-maid man

This humorous column by Jerry Zezima originally appeared in the Stamford Advocate on Feb. 1, 2013. Reposted by permission. 

I could never see myself in a little French maid’s outfit, except on weekends while doing my household chores, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever wear one because: (a) I probably couldn’t find something like that in my size and (b) I don’t speak French.

But that didn’t stop me from becoming a maid recently when I joined a team from The Maids, a national house cleaning service, and helped clean my own house.

I wasn’t required to wear a little French maid’s outfit — a yellow Maids polo shirt and a pair of khakis composed the official attire — but I did have to work hard to get all the dirt and dust off floors and out of corners so the house would be, as it often isn’t after I am done with my chores, spotless.

I called The Maids because a husband’s work is never done and, in nearly 35 years of marriage, I have improved my vacuuming, scrubbing and dusting skills to the point where I wondered if I were good enough to be a professional.

“We’ll find out,” said Ken Quenstedt, who owns The Maids franchise that serves northwestern Suffolk County, N.Y., where I live.

Ken came over in a yellow Maids car with four team members: Maria, Mayra, Melanie and Ingris. They were soon joined by Jenny, the field supervisor.

My wife, Sue, who keeps a clean house despite my help, served as the domestic supervisor.

“Jerry didn’t know how to work the washing machine until a few years ago,” Sue told Ken. “But he’s a lot better at chores than he used to be.”

“I’m best at ironing,” I bragged, “because I’m a member of the press.”

“Vacuuming is my specialty,” said Ken, like me an empty nester whose wife appreciates his (not always superlative) efforts around the house.

I thought I was pretty good at it, too, but neither Ken nor I had anything on Maria, who had a space-age vacuum cleaner strapped to her back. It looked like a scuba tank, from which extended a hose with an attachment that Maria expertly maneuvered over the carpeting, along the ceiling and around corners.

“May I try it?” I asked Maria, who graciously helped me strap on the vacuum and showed me how to operate it without getting entangled in the cord, which I did anyway.

“You’re doing a good job,” she said.

I did an even better job of dusting after watching Ingris, the team leader, deftly use her dust cloth on the bureaus and nightstands in the master bedroom.

“I usually dust around things,” I confessed.

“You have to move them,” said Ingris, who was impressed when I followed instructions and did the job right.

“Could I be part of the team?” I asked.

“Yes!” she answered.

Jenny was impressed with my toilet-cleaning prowess after showing me how to correctly use a brush in the porcelain convenience.

“Very good,” she declared.

I was flush with excitement. It was my turn to be impressed after watching Melanie scrub down the tile in another bathroom until it was immaculate.

When I noticed that the team members were wearing shoe covers, Mayra explained, “We don’t want to bring dirt into the house.”

“My feet are so big,” I said, “I should wear garbage bags.”

Instead, the foursome used garbage bags for, yes, garbage, which they emptied out of wastebaskets.

After an hour and a half, they were finished.

“The house has never looked so clean!” Sue exclaimed.

I thanked the hardworking crew for a magnificent job and told Ken that they inspired me to be an even better house cleaner.

“Whenever you do chores,” he suggested, “you can wear the yellow shirt.”

“At least,” I said with a sigh of relief, “I won’t have to wear a little French maid’s outfit.”

— 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 McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. The author of Leave it to Boomer, he has just finished his second book, The Empty Nest Chronicles, slated to be published later this year. He has won four humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month in March 2012.

100 hours of humo(u)r!

No matter how you spell it, brace yourself for a wild, global online party, what humorist Dave Fox calls “a cool new kind of writing class.”

Here’s how he describes the 100-hour writing festival:

I’m throwing a big-ass party, and you’re invited. And you can attend, no matter where in the world you are. With goose-bumpy excitement, I’m thrilled to announce the “100 Hours of Humo(u)r” online festival!

It’s going to be my most ambitious and ridiculous web event ever. From March 1-5, my goal is to upload new humor-related content to Globejotting.com every hour for a hundred hours.

Some hours, I’ll be blogging “live,” testing my high-speed writing skills with quick comedy blasts. Other hours will feature humor writing mini-lessons to help you become a funnier person. You can put those lessons into action in “flash humor” writing contests; I’ll announce a topic, you’ll have 60 minutes to crank out something funny and send it to me, and the best stories will win prizes. (And, yes, some hours, I’ll be snoring. During those times, pre-written content will upload automatically, so the hourly flood of goofiness will continue all day and night, regardless of your time zone.)

Why all the hoopla? Two reasons: (1) I wanted a reason to use the word, “hoopla.” (2) During the online party, I’ll be kicking off my new and improved series of online writing classes.

I’ve been working feverishly on a more flexible, more affordable format for my humor and travel writing workshops. These information-soaked courses will cost a fraction of what the original workshops cost, and they’ll include new features such as MP3 audio lessons  and the “Globejotters’ Lounge,” our online writers’ hangout. If you’re wanting a more intensive workshop with in-depth, professional coaching, you can purchase add-on critique packages for detailed feedback on your work. These reformatted courses will also offer more flexibility for people with busy schedules. The old workshops took place on specific dates. With the new courses, you can start whenever you like, and work at your own pace.

The “100 Hours” party from March 1 to 5 will include a special pre-sale discount for the new humor course (which is scheduled to be ready around March 15, possibly sooner). The travel writing workshop follows in May, and a new “Writers’ Therapy” class, to help you tackle common emotional challenges writers face, is on deck for later this year.

More details are coming very soon on all the cool stuff that’s included with these courses, and how you can get big discounts on the new writing courses during the 100 Hours of Humo(u)r extravaganza. So check back on my Globejotting.com website in a few days and mark your calendar for March 1-5.

The “100 Hours” fest begins at the following times on March 1:

US Pacific: 6 a.m.

US Eastern: 9 a.m.

Ireland and Great Britain: 2 p.m.

Central European Time: 3 p.m.

Singapore / Hong Kong / Perth, Australia: 10 p.m.

Sydney, Australia: 1 a.m. (March 2)

New Zealand: 3 a.m. (March 2)

 Dave Fox

Dave Fox is author of Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad and Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!), both Amazon bestsellers. He was part of the faculty at the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Sign up for online versions of his fun and popular travel and humor writing classes.

Peekaboo! Let the good times in

(Gina Barreca’s column appeared in the Hartford Courant Feb. 8. Reposted by permission of the author.)

We all enter this world crying. Laughter is something we have to learn.

We learn to laugh through contact with somebody else who’s doing it, which, unless you’re a twin, is yet another difference from the whole “being born” business.

And although it is possible to laugh alone, like so many other things, it’s a lot more fun to do it with others. I’m thinking, of course, of miniature golf.

My journalist friend Gene Weingarten says, the very moment we learn to laugh depends on having somebody else there. He believes it all comes down to peekaboo. (Yes, like so many other things.)

Weingarten argues that “peekaboo tickles before tickling tickles” and the experience of humor goes back to the moment when a baby watches somebody cover her face with her hands and then yell “peekaboo!” in glee as she removes them. That irrepressible combination of surprise-plus-continuity is at the heart of it, says Weingarten of The Washington Post (I’m referring to peekaboo, not to the paper, you understand).

We adore being a little bit shocked but we also immediately want to see that our shock is just silly. We want to be reminded, by the release of laughter, that what we love has not actually disappeared.

Psychologists refer to this as “object permanence.” Perhaps you’ve referred it to it in less clinical terms if, as I have, you have begun what turned into a marathon session of peekaboo with a tyke who has been affected by too much excitement, sugar or double-espresso shots. Kids will play peekaboo until the cows come home, or until it simply smells as if they did.

Our appetite for that kind of fun dwindles as we grow up. It is replaced by the mind-numbing drudgery of life. After all, there’s kindergarten with its endless crayoning, crayoning and crayoning. And school? With the horror of, well, learning? And sitting? And snacking before learning again? No wonder we lose our mirth.

A sense of humor is not hardwired into our systems once we get past the peekaboo stage; if you’ve ever commuted to work by bus you know this for a fact. But a sense of humor can be developed as can another talent or skill set. Like carrying a tune or picking up the check, however, some people never master the art.

Some folks don’t realize that there is no such thing as an ordinary life.

They believe themselves to have cornered the market on misery, frustration and disappointment. They tell you about their unhappy childhoods and dysfunctional families as if they were the only ones ever to have been ritually humiliated, even before “America’s Funniest Home Videos” went global. They complain about their parents, kids, jobs or neighbors to the point where their tales of woe are, like certain exotic foods, hard to swallow.

But bad times, we must remember, are inevitable: We all face death, we all face suffering, we all face the prospect of another season of “Dance Moms.” You have two alternatives: You can crack up or you can crack a smile.

Unlike bad times, however, good times aren’t bullies who break down the doors and barge in. Joy and pleasure are, instead, excellent guests and, as such, they wait for an invitation. You have to open the door to life’s best moments; you have to invite them in and welcome them when they arrive.

To be honest, I’ve always found that it’s best to make a big fuss when good times appear at the threshold. You want them to feel absolutely at home. You wouldn’t want them to feel that, while you’re happy enough to see them, you were expecting a little more razzle-dazzle. They might not come again. They depend on genuine hospitality. You wouldn’t want them to think they’d arrived too late, or were deemed insignificant, or were weighed and found wanting.

Survival, or making survival worth the bother, depends on seeking joy, uncovering and discovering humor, and, in one of life’s great ironies, carefully nurturing a sense of the absurd.

Remembering to laugh is as essential as learning how to peekaboo in the first place. It can’t make the darkness go away, but it does admit the light.

— Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca, an English professor at the University of Connecticut, feminist scholar and author of eight books, keynoted the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Reflections of Erma