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Exercise class

Natalie CinelliSo I’ve joined an old ladies’ exercise class. Believe me, it wasn’t my first choice. I had previously signed up for a zumba class at the most popular athletic club in town. The membership was free with my health insurance. Why not have fun while trying to get in shape, I thought.

Little did I know that I would be the baby boomer trying to keep up with millennials. First, I discovered that my active wear wasn’t skimpy enough. Maybe a trip to the mall to buy a couple of really stylish outfits would do the trick. Even the salesgirl was impressed with my purchase. “You will look fabulous,” she said.

Looking around at the others in the class, however, I realized that a bare midriff is a must. Nobody told me. I’m trying to get rid of my middle, not expose it.

And then there’s the music. I’m used to songs with a “beat” that they used to dance to on American Bandstand. Blaring loud, electronic dance club songs certainly got my heart pounding, but I couldn’t hear anything for at least an hour after one of these sessions.

“What did you say?” I replied when my husband asked me how I did. “My ears are ringing.”

Plus my knees couldn’t handle the jumping, twisting and gyrating. I had to look for a less strenuous class.

Fortunately, our active adult community offers several different exercise classes. You don’t even have to get off your behind in one of the classes. It’s called “sit and be fit.”

I decided to try the body sculpting and muscle strengthening class. Using dumbbells, body bars, balls, tubing and bands I would get my body back in shape. That was my plan.

Our fitness instructor, Charli, is enthusiastic and energetic. She turns up the Motown classics playing on the speakers and gets us moving and kicking and bending and doing bicep curls. She encourages us as we do push-ups and squats.

“Smile,” she yells as we gulp water from our bottles. “Are we having fun yet?”

Oh, yes, so much fun!

Just like Richard Simmons, I’m usually sweating to the oldies by the end of the class.

But, I found out that the real challenge is at the beginning of the session. As we line up to enter the gym and collect our equipment, it’s every woman for herself. There’s a stampede of women elbowing their way into the room. They are all trying to stake out a space on the floor for our workout. That’s when the gloves come off.

“You’re in my spot.” “Your body bar is in my way.” “I’m going to trip on your dumbbells.” “You’ve got to move.”

That’s when I take a stand. I am not moving.

I feel as if I’m on the “Survivor” TV show. And I’ve just won the first challenge.

This is the old ladies’ exercise class.

This is survival of the fittest.

— Natalie Cinelli

Natalie Cinelli is a freelance writer who has had articles published in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and American Baby magazine. She wrote a humor column, “In a Nutshell,” for the Suburban News in Reading, Massachusetts. She also worked as a lifestyle editor and columnist for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

How I barely survived IKEA

Laurie StoneThe other day my son Paul suggested something so disturbing, so cringe inducing, so horrific, I had to hold onto my kitchen counter for support. “I need a new bureau. Let’s go back to IKEA.”

All I could do was shake my head, repeating the word, “No.” I cannot. I will not go back to IKEA for these nine reasons…

#1First, they lure you in with Swedish meatballs and Lingonberry parfaits. Don’t fall for it. Their cafeteria, located in front of the store, is light-filled, cheerful and Scandinavian. Colorful bins brim over with red, yellow, blue and green potholders, pencils, teapots and plate mats. You think what a fun, wonderful place. But then you enter the rest of the store…

#2 – It’s designed in this confusing labyrinth. Explorer Ernest Shackleton would get lost. You need to scatter breadcrumbs to find your way out. Not to mention all their furniture has Swedish names with 17 syllables and no vowels. Half the time I couldn’t remember where I was or what I liked, let alone how to pronounce it.

#3 — There are no salespeople. Usually salespeople at furniture stores are like wolves circling baby goats. You can’t move two feet without hearing, “Can I help you?” Not at IKEA. It’s like invasion of the body snatchers. You walk for miles and slowly realize there are only tired, confused-looking customers. No employees are anywhere.

#4 – Wait, there’s one! Finally, after an hour we stumbled upon a hollowed-eyed woman wearing an IKEA tag who looked like she’d never seen a human before. When I asked how I went about buying furniture, she pointed to an odd plastic pouch hanging from a sofa. “All information’s there,” she said and wafted away.

#5 – Those odd plastic pouches. All IKEA items have a baggy with a bunch of order forms and one stubby pencil.  This is their system.  It dawned on me why they charge so little. You do everything yourself.  And I mean…everything. An uneasy feeling started to grow.

#6 – The “I can’t assemble things” shaming. After filling out the sales ticket, we stood in a long line to pay. When I voiced concern to the cashier that I didn’t know an Allen wrench from pickled herring, she looked at me like I’d just shot a puppy. Sighing, she handed over a paper with the name of a local assembler. Phew, I thought walking away. We’re almost out of IKEA’s clutches. Little did I know, the worst was yet to come…

#7 – The warehouse. Remember those galley ship movies as kids?  Dozens of sweaty men chained to benches, rowing? That’s what IKEA’s warehouse reminded me of, except you’re expected to sit down and pick up an oar.  After realizing we were completely on our own, Paul and I secured a trolley and I asked one of the few, tired-looking workers where we could find the Koppanghemnes bureau.  “Row 270-B,” he said, jerking his thumb toward an area the size of 10 airport hangars.

#8 – The massive body strength required. Half hour later, Paul and I found the Koppanghemnes bureau, unassembled in three flat boxes, just high enough to qualify as an Olympic event. We struggled to get them onto the trolley, went through another long line to check out, and finally exited, blinking in the bright sunlight. Three hours had gone by. I wanted to stand there, arms in the air, like the triumphant prison break scene in “Shawshank Redemption.”

#9 – You have to store everything before (head lowered) having it assembled. We finally got home and once again, lugged those damn boxes to our garage where they sat until I called the wonderful man who magically turned this stuff into an actual bureau…for another fee.

Needless to say, I won’t be returning to IKEA in the near future, although they do have Lingonberry parfaits.  (And yes, I know I’m treading on thin ice here. Many people love IKEA.)

— Laurie Stone

Laurie Stone writes from the woods of Easton, Connecticut. Her blog, “Musings, Rants & Scribbles,” shares thoughts on growing up, growing older and growing (hopefully) wiser. She draws inspiration from her poor, unsuspecting husband of several decades, two grown sons, family and friends (including the furry ones). You can also find her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest. She has written for the Huffington PostMedium, Pick the BrainMidlife Boulevard and In the Know Traveller, among many others.

Niagara Falls or bust!

Heather ChristieHave you ever wanted to throw caution to the wind? Ride by the seat of your pants? Improvise?

Such tendencies are not in my comfort zone. I’m a textbook Type A personality who feels most content with an airtight schedule and clear contingency plans. But on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, that all changed.

The sunny season of 2013 had slipped away from us without a pre-determined family vacation. Every time I broached the subject of our summer trip, my husband insisted that, “we’d figure it out.”

So the morning of Aug. 10, I woke with an uncharacteristic tingle of excitement as I anticipated our spontaneous, undesigned family holiday. Map in hand, I asked the kids where they wanted to go. As my husband watched golf on the television (remember this fact) there was a heated discussion debating the merits of the beach versus the mountains. We agreed on Niagara Falls, which was driving distance from home, plus we could stop in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon on the return trip as we circled down to the Eastern Shore of Maryland where we were meeting family for a few days at the end of the week.

Settled.

We packed the car.

We started late because we had to attend our son’s end-of-season basketball pool party. The summer sun was heavy in the sky as the kids, wet-headed and wrapped in damp towels, jammed themselves into the back seat.

We were off!

Winging it! Going on an unplanned adventure! Rebels. Non-conformists — those Christie-Snyders!

At about 10:30 p.m. after four hours on the road, everybody was tired and I suggested that, perhaps, we should get a hotel home and drive the rest of the way at daybreak.

“Let’s get closer,” my husband said. “We want to be near the falls in the morning.”

We barreled through the dark night and hit Buffalo around midnight.

“Okay, start calling,” my husband said. “We’re not too far now.”

I inquired with one hotel after another, my anxiety growing.

Sorry, we’re booked.

No rooms.

The PGA Tour is being played here this weekend.

(Oh really? Yes, you would think we would know that since we were watching it on TV this afternoon!)

Three hours and 100 miles beyond Niagara we found a hotel with one vacancy.

Fabulous.

Things were turning around. Our Volvo would not be the scene of a murder-suicide.

At 2 a.m., we unpacked the entire car, stuffing the rolling cart high with our suitcases, pillows, sleeping bags and stuffed animals. Weary-eyed, the kids and I checked in while my husband parked the car.

We maneuvered the heavy cart through the quiet hallway. I slid the room key into the lock and pushed open the door. The bedcovers were askew and the curtains were closed. I paused, my brain trying to reconcile the terrible housekeeping at this hotel. I was too tired to care. My family was grumpy and ready for bed.

“Get out!” someone screamed. “I’m calling security!”

My heart jumped out of my chest.

The hotel clerk had given us the wrong room key.

Sorry that was the last room. We made a mistake.

The kids almost started to cry.

The look of defeat on my husband’s face as we repacked silenced me from saying, “I told you we should have booked a room ahead of time.”

The kids thought we should turn around and drive home to Pennsylvania. Surely, we would get to bed faster than trying to find another room in New York.

No. Niagara Falls or bust!

Two hours later, we finally located another room.

The next day, bleary eyed and sleep deprived, we saw the falls, which were impressive. On the return trip through the Grand Canyon, we received a speeding ticket and our daughter contracted strep throat. Oh, and something broke on our car and we had to detour to a rural mechanic in the middle of nowhere and wait until a part could be located.

The trip is far enough in the past that we laugh about it now. It’s one for the memory books.

Unplanned.

Spontaneous.

And not happening again.

It’s August. Most normal people have planned their family vacations by now.

I better get moving.

— Heather Christie

Heather Christie is a wife, mother, writer, real estate broker, knitter, cook, exercise freak and avid reader. When she’s not selling houses, she’s writing books and blogging about food, family and philosophy at www.HeatherChristieBooks.com. She can be found on Facebook at @heatherchristiebooks and on Twitter @heatherc_writes.

Mini eviction notice

Jan MarshallI have unwanted visitors.

They appear when it rains and when it is sunny. Holidays are not excluded. A few times a year, they roam in my powder rooms which are connected by a wall. THEY ARE ANTS AND THEY ARE A PAIN IN MY…BATHROOM!

I believe in gentle persuasion to dissuade these insects. I usually purchase organic substances. Nothing toxic enters my domain except for my neighbor, Yenta the Gossip. I do not want to harm the little buggers (Yenta is another story), created by Mother Nature. I just want to give them a ticket to ride.

Some old-fashioned solutions I have used include scattering bay leaves, vinegar and coffee grinds. They made a salad and sent out invitations applauding my excellent culinary skills though they wondered why I did not give them the option of itsy bitsy tiny cappuccinos. Now they are emailing friends that this is a good place to meet for java and veggies. They even liked me on their Facebook page.

There is no food allowed in the bathrooms except for those ingredients that are available only after they make their seasonal journey to my home. What the heck brings them here?

And why do they congregate around the shower water faucet? Do they have a cleanliness obsession?

I have sprayed them with non-toxic window cleanser and received a note of thanks, as their bifocals were now clear.

I have shouted that “this is my home.” The rule is clearly stated on my front door, “Call before knocking under penalty of pummeling by a flamenco dance.” Holding their ears, they giggle and they multiply. I have left birth-control books by the tub. Perhaps they have a religious objection.

Reasoning with them brought no satisfaction.  They gave me a smart a** answer. I responded, “Yes, while I could deduct them as dependents on my tax returns” as they suggest, I tell them “they have to leave because of my “one house, one person” rental contract unless I get lucky during Fleet Week.

They are cute little things and they do not frighten me as much as the daddy long leg spiders in tennis shoes do. When they appear, I scream for my male hero who arrives in a pith helmet to remove the intruders, though he often screams louder than I do, measuring 8 on the Andy Richter scale.

Last week I encountered some bad, good and more bad news. The shower curtains and rod fell on my head. Water squirted everywhere, temporarily removing most of the “you know who’s,” except for the one in the Speedo with a life jacket doing the backstroke.

Last night I thought I had found a temporary solution.  I lit candles, turned on soft jazz and gathered them together. In my most sultry voice, I then asked for “a commitment.” They immediately disappeared.

This morning, however, Siri, my live-in, usually incompetent iPhone secretary, gleefully read me a text from their leader.

“VE WILL BE BOCK!

 P.S. Janny, you are out of toilet paper.”

 — Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall has devoted her life’s work to humor and healing through books, columns and motivational speaking. As founder of the International Humor & Healing Institute, she worked with board members Norman Cousins, Steve Allen and other physicians and entertainers, including John Cleese. Her newest satirical survival book, Dancin’ Schmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! is dedicated to Wounded Warriors, Gabrielle Giffords and Grieving Parents. She donates a percentage of the profits to these organizations as well as to the American Cancer Society and the American Brain Tumor Association.

Offices to which I apparently have been elected and now serve

Peyton PriceI win elections all the time. Most of the time I don’t even know I’m in the running until I end up with the job. Then I’m like, “What the…? I don’t even remember a primary.” But democracy is the best and always rewards people with wisdom and good judgment by pressing them into positions of service. It’s that venerable tradition that makes our nation great. Consider this list of offices to which I apparently have been elected:

Landline Designate, Special Envoy To The Unknown Caller And Dentist’s Receptionist

Official Taster Of Restaurant Cokes That Might Be Diet Or Possibly Pepsi

Dictator Of Email Responses To Relatives Requesting A Multi-Day Visit

Peacekeeper With Regard To All Disputes That Can Be Resolved With IMDB

Chief Collector Of Empty Cups, Dirty Socks And Pens That Were Free But Don’t Really Write

Recorder of Food Establishments Banned Following A Family Member’s Visit and Subsequent ‟Hard Times”

Executive In Charge Of Batteries, Replacement And Dead, Sizes AAA Through D (Not The Watch Ones)

Border Patrol And Customs Inspections Following Incursions by Dog-Walking Neighbors Who Carry A Baggie For Show Only

Commissioner Of Art Made By My Own Children (PTA Sham Delegate)

Supreme Leader Of People Around Here Really Needing to Go To Bed At Some Point So I Can Watch Game of Thrones

— Peyton Price

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind the Picket Fence. You can find her at suburbanhaiku.com.

Olympic swimming should hold a 20-foot wave competition

Sammy SportfaceThere should be an exhibition swimming event at this upcoming Olympics.

In a pool without any lane line buoys, eight random Olympic swimmers should stand on the starting blocks. They dive in.

Soon after they hit the water to swim freestyle, an artificial 20-foot wave ascends exactly like the ones you see at amusement parks such as the Busch Gardens pool park. It breaks from the left side and crosses over the entire pool from lanes one through eight and the water gushes over the edges onto the deck.

The swimmers have to navigate the choppy waters. Five seconds later, another artificial wave breaks, this time from the right side.

While this is happening, the swimmers will go underwater and start grabbing at the legs and ankles of the other swimmers to slow them down and take them out of their rhythm. This will be kind of like that game swimmers play in the diving well called barracuda or sharks and minnows or whatever.

Underwater skirmishes will break out all over. More artificial 20-foot waves will curl up and pound down — every five seconds. Guys will dunk each other’s heads underwater. No one will let anyone get too far ahead. If anyone takes a lead, the pool electronics will be programmed to automatically build up another wave aimed directly at the leader to slow that guy down.

The pool will look like the Atlantic Ocean does during a full-blown hurricane. Swimmers will be struggling to stay afloat. Exhaustion from wrestling each other underwater and fighting to keep their heads above water to breathe will vex them.

The biggest problem they will have to contend with, other than the onslaught of waves, will be the fact that the race is a 500 freestyle. Twenty laps in hydraulic mayhem.

Fans in the stands will become raucous. It will have the feel of a World Wrestling Federation event, all out of control and unpredictable.

They will root for the guys who are behind in the race. They won’t want the first-place guy to get ahead. Leaders will be the bad guys. They will cheer for anyone who gets ahead to have a huge wave come his way to slow him down and make it tough to get anywhere fast. The race will become like a gladiator scene without shields and knives. Some blood will be drawn from skin abrasions. There will some thigh bruises and shoulder separations.

No one will win the race. No will finish the race. No will allow anyone to get through those laps.

The crowd will be beside itself. On the decks water will continue to pour. Some fans will get so excited they will jump in the water and wrestle with the swimmers themselves.

Others who stay in their seats will start doing the “Wave” cheer.

After an hour, the meet official will blow the whistle declaring the event over and that there is no winner.

There will be so much water drenching the deck of the pool that they will have to bring out water vacuums to soak it all up. This will delay the meet  for three hours.

NBC will air the event live. Someone on their social media team will post a Tweet about it with a link to the video. The tweet will go viral and be retweeted 786,598 times on the first day.

It will be the story of the 2016 Olympic Games besides Michael Phelps finishing second in the 200 meter individual medley behind Laszlo Cseh of Hungary or Ryan Lochte or both.

— Sammy Sportface

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

Duke of Oil

 

Jerry ZezimaIt’s not every day that you get the oil changed in your car (in fact, it’s every 3,000 miles) and drive away feeling like you’ve just struck oil.

But that’s the way I felt recently when I spoke with Tony Didio, a service adviser at Hyundai 112 in Medford, New York, where my car routinely goes for oil changes, filter replacements and medical procedures such as open-hood surgery.

Tony is a car doctor who has prescriptions not only for a healthy vehicle (“If you can’t stop, those are the brakes”), but for a healthy lifestyle (“Never stand in front of a shooter at an archery range”).

Tony also is an archer who has a point.

“I’m right on target,” he told me.

“That pun made me quiver,” I responded. “Do you know what Custer wore at Little Bighorn?”

“What?” Tony said.

“An Arrow shirt,” I answered.

Since I don’t have a Pierce-Arrow, which stopped manufacturing automobiles a decade and a half before I was born, I asked Tony about my 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe.

“When you change the oil in my car,” I wondered, “do you use extra-virgin olive oil?”

“No,” Tony said. “I’d use that on pizza. But we don’t serve it here.”

Ironically, Tony began his automotive career at his father’s pizzeria in Plainview, New York.

“I was 12 when I started working there,” said Tony, who’s now 65. “But I was always interested in cars. I used to clean off the ones that came over on boats from Germany, so I switched from olive oil to motor oil.”

In 1971, Tony officially entered the car business when he went to work for a guy who was a mechanic for legendary race-car driver and designer Briggs Cunningham.

“Did you ever want to race in the Indy 500?” I asked.

“No,” said Tony. “But I’d have a better chance there than I would here. New York drivers are crazy.”

“You’re a New York driver,” I pointed out.

“Yes,” Tony acknowledged. “But I’m not crazy enough to ruin my car. Then I’d have to fix it.”

He’s had to fix plenty of other people’s cars in his 45 years in the business, during which he has learned that women know just as much about cars as men do. And they’re not as cheap.

“Like the guy whose brakes were worn down to the rotors, metal to metal, so I changed them,” Tony recalled. “The guy got all bent out of shape, just like his brakes, and insisted I put the old ones back in because he didn’t want to pay for new ones. Then he drove off. I was waiting for him to come back with a smashed front end because he couldn’t stop. I should have put him up on a lift and examined his head.”

Tony hasn’t repaired cars since he slipped on a patch of ice while carrying an engine and threw his back out.

“I threw it out, but nobody would take it,” Tony said with a deadpan expression, which he admitted is better than an oil-pan expression. “You have to have a sense of humor in this business,” he noted.

Tony, who loves to joke around with his customers, recalled the time a woman heard a ticking sound in her car and thought her husband had planted a bomb in it.

“I guess they weren’t getting along,” Tony said perceptively. “So I told her I was going to call 911. I kept her in suspense for about 10 minutes. Then I said, ‘I’m only kidding. There’s no bomb in the car.’ She was greatly relieved.”

Tony said people are always telling him that he should be a stand-up comic.

“I can’t stand up that long,” he said. “My feet get tired.”

But not too tired for this husband, father and soon-to-be grandfather to stand in the kitchen occasionally and, recalling the pizza days of his youth, make a delicious Italian dinner.

When I told Tony I’m not handy enough to be either a mechanic or a cook, he gave me the secret of his success: “If you just remember that motor oil goes in cars and olive oil goes on pizza, you’ll be OK.”

— 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.

Surviving your spouse’s high school reunion

Myron KuklaI just got back from attending my wife’s high school reunion.

While I find going to my own high school reunion is interesting, fun and full of stimulating people with interesting lives — going to someone else’s reunion is usually boring. That’s because you don’t know anybody and you don’t have anything in common with these people but your spouse.

But I had a great time at this year’s reunion of my wife Madeline’s class. That’s because I was prepared.

I knew from past experience that within five minutes of arriving at the reunion my wife would disappear for the rest of the night and I’d find myself sitting at a table, chit chatting with complete strangers.

Conversations at these tables usually follow a set pattern like a quiz game. “Who are you with? Where do you live? What do you do? Would you like to see pictures of our grandchildren?”

This time was going to be different. For this reunion, I decided I was going to be a classmate from my wife’s class.

So when the reunion invitation arrived from her high school, I went and pulled out Madeline’s old yearbook and began thumbing through it with her. She would stop and reminisce over each photo and talk about the people until she got to the picture of Tom Washington.

“I wonder what ever happened to him. He left town after high school and has never come back for a reunion.”

Right then, I decided I would be Tom Washington at my wife’s class reunion.

I studied everything I could about him in the yearbook and then created an imaginary life for Tom for the past 35 years.

At the reunion, when my wife disappeared, I took my name tag off and put on one that read “Tom Washington” and began mingling with grads I recognized from the yearbook who didn’t know me.

I’d walk up to someone from the class, throw my arms open and cry: “Babs Johnson!  I bet I haven’t seen you since algebra class. You look great.”

Three things would happen when I did this.

First, this look would cross their face that said: “Who is this person? I should know him because he knows me.” Then their eyes would go to my name tag and a look of recognition would cross their face when they saw the name Tom Washington. Then, they would get a confused expression as they looked back at me.

“Tom Washington. How are you? Didn’t you use to be an Albino?” they’d ask.

I had great fun for Tom. He really should have been there.  I told different people that I, or rather Tom, had once built a kitchen cabinet for President George W. Bush, helped Bill Gates find his car keys in the Microsoft parking lot and gave NASA shuttle pilots personality tests.

After a while, though, I got tired of that and took a different approach. The next person who asked me what I had been up to, I told them I had spent the last six years in the state sanitarium for the criminally insane. “But I’m much better now,” I would assure them, then add:  “Just as long as no one plays the Macarena while I’m around.”  Then I would glance over nervously at the band.

After a while, I figured Tom Washington had enough fun for one night, so I took his name tag off and began telling people I was Joseph Ratzinger.  “I used to be the Pope, but I got tired of it. Now I’m an extraneous church appendage.”

They’d smile and say, “That’s nice. Would you like to see pictures of our grandchildren?”

After a while doing that, I went to look for my wife.

“Where have you been?” she asked. “I guess we missed it. Pope Benedict XVI was here earlier although I don’t remember him being in our class.”

Before too long, people started coming over to our table asking if we’d seen Tom Washington yet.

It seems word had spread that Tom had been in President George Bush’s “Cabinet,” was “key” to Bill Gates and Microsoft and was a “test” pilot for NASA.

The big payoff of the evening came when one of the men at the table popped in and said, “I don’t care if Tom Washington landed on the moon. From what I’ve heard, if they start playing the Macarena, we’re out of here.”

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla is a Midwest writer based in Holland, Michigan, Tulip capital of the world. He is the author of several books of humor including Guide to Surviving Life: A 3,487-step Guide to Self-Improvement and Confessions of a Baby Boomer available at www.squareup.com/store/myronkuklabooks. Email him at myronkuklabooks.com.

Reflections of Erma