In which the author interviews a reluctant subject about life in the Big House.
Due to the benevolence of the Social Security Administration* we occasionally receive a statement detailing what we have earned at what I like to call the “Darcy Family Compound.” Being the sort that is easily amused, I enjoy perusing the document while reminiscing about the year I clawed my way out of the poverty level for the “ Non-Farm Family of Four” or the year I finally achieved the enviable five-digits-west-of-the-decimal-point status.
But for 1986 I noticed that “Spike,” as Mr. Darcy has chosen to be named for the benefit of this blog, did not contribute to our tax base. “How is it that you were not participating in our economy that year?” I asked. Spike replied that he had been a “guest of the county.” I knew that due to numerous misdemeanors and felony DWI’s he had done some time but had not known it was for almost an entire year. I used this newfound knowledge to ask Spike some questions about prison life.
Did you have tin cups that you rattled on the bars of your cell or pounded on your table?
We were only allowed to have spoons; there were no knives or forks. We had plastic dishes and cups, and there was no pounding or rattling of any sort. We were in the county lock-up at Yaphank (Long Island, N.Y.) and nobody wanted to go back to Riverhead, where conditions were worse.
Is that why they call it “sent up the river”?
That “river” is the Hudson; those guys were going upstate to Ossining or some state penitentiary.
So when you were in the Big House…
It wasn’t the “Big House.” Again, that refers to some joint upstate, not the county lock-up.
Was there at any time, anyone playing the harmonica like in the movies?
No, and nobody was singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” or “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” We weren’t allowed to have any musical instruments or art supplies and before you ask, we weren’t allowed any pet birds like in “The Birdman of Alcatraz.” Also, are all your questions going to be this idiotic?
Probably yes, and speaking of “Alcatraz,” did you guys spend all your time plotting your escape?
No, pretty much we were just doing our time so we could get out. We didn’t want to jeopardize our release date by acting stupid.
Gotta ask, what finally made them lock you up?
I won’t lie; I decapitated a fire hydrant by the A.L. Jacobsen Funeral Home, (aka “Al’s Funeral Parlor”). When I was chained to a desk at the precinct, they told me I had flooded out the basement and there were bodies floating downstairs. I never ran into another car, or person, or hurt anyone, which I might have if I hadn’t been locked up.
What did you do all day in jail?
We all had jobs, like garbage detail or food prep or something. We used to watch all the cop shows like “Baretta” and “Rockford Files.” A couple of guys were always trying to make “hooch,” which is made with yeast, sugar and fruit juice. You just pray that it ferments… Okay, no more questions.
Spike had evidently run out of patience with my probing journalistic style, but I have found out from previous nosiness that there were no riots, hunger strikes or people making blades out of sharpened toothbrushes, and certainly no re-enactments of “Thriller.”
Eventually, with the support of family and friends, and to the everlasting gratitude of the Orange and White Cab Company, Spike made the courageous decision to stop driving. Yes, it was the driving that was causing all the trouble in his life and it was time to put an end to it. That was 1987.
But later, thanks to Spike’s involvement in AA., sanity, grace and clarity ensued and by 1992 Spike quit drinking and now has 24 years of sobriety. He has no animosity towards the system that jailed him as it may have saved lives other than his own.
*This column is not commenting on the origin, strength or future of Social Security, the author leaves that to greater minds than hers.
— Ann Rita Darcy
Ann Rita Darcy is a nurse and grandmother who lives on Long Island.
My cheeks burn and the blister on my heel oozes, as I peel the backing off a Band-Aid. Paparazzi and stilettos. It’s not as easy as it looks. I wonder if this is how the Kardashians got started.
My good friend, Stacey, talented writer and photographer, agreed to take some headshots to use for my “social media presence,” you know, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YikYak.
When I spotted Stacey at the agreed-upon location, I waved. She fiddled with her camera strap and turned in my direction. Then she sized me up like Giuliana Rancic on “Fashion Police.”
“Take off the sweater. It doesn’t work. Too bright.”
Damn. In my quest for just the right outfit, I rejected a navy sweater, a denim jacket, two shawls and a caftan. Why didn’t I bring them? I knew I couldn’t argue with her well-established eye for color and exposure, not to mention her know-it-all attitude. Nevertheless, I couldn’t imagine enduring this photo shoot in such revealing attire.
“No way,” I protested. “My blouse is sleeveless, and I hate my arms.”
I slipped out an offending appendage from the blinding garment. “See?” I said, wiggling my generous underwing.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, ripping the cardigan from my vice-like grip. “You look fine.”
Easy for her to say, a smart-alecky 10-years-my-junior, oblivious to the sadistic sag preparing to ravage her youthful tautness.
Ms. Bossy sat me down and started snapping, positioning me this way and that, head tilted, looking up, straight ahead, or off toward the distant strip mall.
After clicking our way through scores of shots, we found a bench and started scrolling through the images on the camera’s two-inch display screen. How the hell am I supposed to select from that microscopic screen? I thought. I grabbed my readers and leaned in.
“I like that one,” I said, squinting to avoid the flabby wing flap.
“No, I’m slouching in that one.”
“Your smile is nice in that one.”
When a shot of her teenage son sinking a lay-up on the basketball court at his high school gymnasium appeared, Stacey tapped the OFF button. “That’s it,” she said. “I’ll email the ones you picked.”
“What do I owe you?” I said, following her to her car as she loaded her gear.
She climbed in the driver’s side and rolled down the window. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, waving me off with a well-defined triceps.
A couple of days later, the pictures arrived. I opened each one on my computer monitor. On the big screen, I discovered, it’s impossible to avoid the bare blubber. But, aside from the slack-skinned limbs, they looked good — in focus, proper lighting, no shadows, suitable positioning of subject — middle-aged, J.K. Rowling wannabe, absent discernible muscle tone. The only negative was, well, said subject, me.
Nonplussed, I forwarded them to my even more youthful daughter for a second opinion. Days later, Kristen replied. “Mom, seriously? Hire a professional. You really could use a little retouching. Love you. xxxooo.” She inherited her keen sense of diplomacy from her father’s side.
Which brings me to my burning cheeks and oozing blister. Suzan, the pro I hired at my sweet daughter’s urging, led me up and down Main Street for an hour at dusk in nearby Pleasanton’s quaint downtown district.
As expected, with her expert camera angles and soft focus lens, my face looked just like a baby’s butt. At least I think that’s the look she was going for.
Eat your heart out, Kim K.
— Camille DeFer Thompson
Camille DeFer Thompson is a freelance writer whose work has been featured on popular women’s blogs, including midlifeboulevard.com. Her short fiction and non-fiction is published in a number of collected works. “Jolt of Reality” recounts her near fatal attempt at DIY in Not Your Mother’s Book…On Home Improvement. In Clash of the Couples, she describes a dream European vacation gone horribly wrong in “Neurotic in Lisbon.” Follow Camille’s humor blog at www.camilledeferthompson.com.
From hair loss to heel spurs, middle age can slowly ravage your body from head to toe. It all starts innocently enough, with a suspicious mole here and a high-cholesterol count there, here a pound, there a pound, everywhere a pound, pound.
At first, I barely even noticed the small, sporadic changes that began to crop up — the stray gray hair, the smile lines that remained long after I stopped smiling. But then I started to connect the age spots, as I perceived a more frequent pattern of disturbing physical transformations inching their way into my body. Then it hit me. BOOM — I’ve got a full-blown case of middle age.
This is a good news/bad news situation. First, let’s rip off the Band-Aid and look at the down side.
The Metabolic Middle Finger. My metabolism tanked at mid-life. Secretly, I was hoping for a dysfunctional thyroid to blame. Nope, I was just getting older. Like an Energy Star appliance, my middle age metabolism clicked into conservation mode. Now I need to do more of everything (i.e., exercise, eat healthier, take vitamins and supplements, manage stress) just to maintain the status quo.
Less-Than-Stellar Skin. In middle age, I learned to deal with the sheer volume of wrinkles that might soon rival a Shar-Pei. My skin, with the elasticity of a 20-year-old balloon, just doesn’t spring back the way it used to. I need more products than ever to combat dry skin, age spots, under-eye circles, broken capillaries, enlarged pores and not-so-fine lines. And that’s just my face. Cellulite? Don’t even get me started.
Ho-hum Hair. Women spend an enormous amount of time and money on their hair, from cuts and color to extensions and blow-dry bars. Middle-age guys are just happy to still have hair. Me? I’ve always struggled with my fine, flat, mouse-brown hair, wishing for more color, bounce and body (hence the many perms in the ‘80s and ‘90s). These days, I curse the irony of my wishful thinking as I look at those coarse, springy gray strands that now pepper my hair. There’s your color. There’s your bounce.
Grandmotherly Eyesight. I skipped the “good-vision gene,” needing glasses since fifth grade. It’s sad to think that I peaked at 10. In my 20s, I wore a stronger prescription than my grandmother, and she had cataracts and bifocals. These days, I’m squinting at menus in dimly lit restaurants and grabbing my reading glasses to decipher the micro-directions on a bottle of Nyquil so I don’t overdose in my sleep.
Spasms and Aches and Pains, Oh My! Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m athletically challenged. Physical prowess has eluded me my whole life, but I can still hold a yoga pose or two. Despite my attempts to stay semi-active and healthy, a muscle cramp, hip pain or back spasm could strike for no apparent reason, like sitting on the couch watching Modern Family. Or sleeping. One time, on vacation in Tennessee, I was reading a book and reaching for a glass of wine, when a childbirth-intensity level of pain ripped through my lower back literally driving me to tears. In addition to worrying about drinking and driving, now I’ve got to worry about drinking and reading? Dear. God.
But the good news? I don’t want to be 20 again. (OK, not exactly true. I would want the better physical health, skin and vision. But I’ll take my highlighted, silver fox head of hair over my perms any day.) While I do care how I feel (both physically and mentally), there’s a certain soul-sucking aspect to caring too much about how I look. These days, I’m shooting for “presentable.” And if, as the saying goes, “a smile is an instant facelift,” then I’m laughing myself all the way into my senior years. BOOM — there it is.
— Lisa Beach
Lisa Beach is a recovering stay-at-home mom and homeschooler who lived to write about it. Her blog, Tweenior Moments, humorously tackles middle age, family, friends and all the baggage that goes with it. She’s been featured on Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, BonBon Break, Club Mid, Mamapedia, Midlife Boulevard, Ten to Twenty Parenting and more. You can find Tweenior Moments on Facebook and Pinterest.
Animal magnetism. Some of us have it and some of us don’t. It’s the luck of the draw, and at the risk of sounding immodest, I drew to an inside straight on this one. I’ve got animal magnetism in spades.
In my life, I have been stalked by an amorous pigeon — there were witnesses — mocked by contentious squirrels and had my head pecked by a deranged blackbird. But nothing compares to my first magnetic experience, which occurred when I was a teenager.
Back then, my bedroom was on the second floor and my parents’ was on the first. My older sisters were gone, leaving nervous Nelly me to sleep upstairs alone. One night I awoke with a start to the sound of heavy, plodding footsteps on the roof. Had Santa, weary of battling winter storms, started delivering presents in June, I wondered. The footsteps paced back and forth directly above my bed for several minutes, sounding less like jolly old St. Nick and more like homicidal ex-convict St. Nick with each deliberate step. Completely unnerved, I bolted out of bed and fled to the safety of the first-floor guest room across the hall from my parents.
The next morning, my mother pooh-poohed my fears that a psycho off-season Santa was stomping around on the roof.
“It’s probably a couple of chipmunks,” she said dismissively.
“Yes, Weight Watchers drop-out chipmunks, wearing steel-toed boots,” I replied sarcastically. “It’s clearly an axe murderer, and I am not sleeping up there.”
For the next week, I inhabited my room as usual until bedtime when I would then retire to the security of the downstairs guest room. One evening, well before the witching hour had struck, my parents went out and I sat alone at my bedroom vanity, peering into my Clairol Lighted Make-Up Mirror. Suddenly, I had the eerie feeling that I was not alone. I looked up from the mirror, turned my head and — dun, dun, duuun — came face to face with my stalker, one fat, wiry-haired, particularly unattractive possum. His long, fleshy nose was pressed hard against my window and his beady eyes were trained unflinchingly on me. I stood frozen for a moment and then ran downstairs, screaming like a banshee.
Thus began my summer of terror at the hands — well, paws — of the peeping Tom possum. He not only continued to spy on me and lope around the roof at night, he sought me out in person, once practically hurling himself in front of my car and another time positioning himself between me and my front door. It was horrifying, and I suffered from PTSD (Possum Traumatic Stress Disorder) for quite some time.
Now 40 years later, flashbacks of that disturbing period of my life have returned. The other night my dog Harper was in the backyard when he began barking wildly, frantically, like he’d never barked before. I opened the door and repeatedly commanded him to stop. He not only ignored me, he ramped the barking up a notch. Frustrated, I grabbed a flashlight and went outside to retrieve him. Just as I grabbed hold of his collar, I sensed movement atop the fence behind me. I swung the flashlight around and caught a flash of beady eyes and fleshy nose receding into the darkness. I yanked Harper’s collar and hightailed it back inside the house.
“What was it?” my husband asked as I turned the dead bolt on the back door.
Barely able to speak for shaking, I simply replied, “Well, it was no chipmunk.”
Animal magnetism in spades. Trust me, it’s a hand better left undealt.
— Lee Gaitan
Lee Gaitan is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead and My Pineapples Went to Houston — Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She also has written a chapter in the bestselling book, The Divinity of Dogs. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Better After 50, Mothers Always Write, Midlife Boulevard, Fab Over Fifty and The Good Men Project. She lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and dog and blogs at Don’t Just Bounce, Bounce Back. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Like many children who grew up in the early ’60s, I was exposed to countless hours of television commercials pushing candy, soft drinks and sugary cereals on my impressionable young stomach. As a result, I became — there is no other way to put it — chubby.
The power of advertising was such that a boy who watched enough Howdy Doody or Captain Midnight would develop a craving for confections which, if described to him without the aid of seductive black-and-white imagery, he would reject out of hand as no more appealing than brussel sprouts. Example: Chocolate Coconut Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars. In a word — bleh.
President Kennedy’s national physical fitness program tried to reverse the incoming tide of obesity, but for many it was too late. You got out of school at 3:30, you had homework to do, dinner was at 6, and bedtime was 7:30. What’s a young smart-aleck going to do with that precious hour of free time — play touch football or watch Rocky and Bullwinkle?
The thing that scared me skinny wasn’t one of those stupid faux-French “parcourses” that appeared overnight like mushrooms across America at the height of the physical fitness craze, only to be ignored until they collapsed decades later from the cumulative effect of years of dog pee.
No, what shook me to the marrow of my bones was an eerie tale told by an older sister who was taking high school biology class. Left to cook hamburgers one night when my parents were at bridge club, she put the greyish-brown lump of dead cow flesh down in front of me and proceeded to tell me about tapeworms.
Tapeworms are a human intestinal parasite that can grow to lengths of 30 feet, and can live in the human body for three decades. They have hooks, spiny structures or suckers on their heads. Ask your doctor which is right for you!
As told to me, tapeworms entered the body through undercooked meat, and the only way to lure them out once they got in was to put a pan of warm milk on the victim’s stomach, which would entice the worms to crawl out through the nose. Warm milk is apparently exciting to a tapeworm.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t finish my hamburger that night.
How much of this tale was true, and how much was typical big sister sadism inflicted on a younger sibling, has never been clear to me. But from that night on, vegetables didn’t sound so bad. And except for a brief period after I attained legal drinking age and no longer had to depend on toothless winos to buy me beer, I have kept my weight below recommended maximums.
Which raises the question — could a carefully planned program of widespread panic fueled by hysterical tales of tapeworm infestation solve America’s childhood obesity problem?
One thing is for sure — exercise won’t.
Just try and sign your kid up for an elite junior hockey league that plays 60 games between July 4th and Labor Day and the same schoolmarms who are up in arms about childhood obesity complain about too much emphasis on sports. You can’t win.
The task of scaring kids with tales of tapeworms has been made easier by the discovery of bone-munching zombie worms off the coast of California. These marine invertebrates have few predators because, frankly speaking, they are some of the most disgusting things alive.
All it would take to end our children’s addiction to fatty meats would be a low-budget health class video that discussed the risk of tapeworms and depicted bone-munching zombie worms wiggling on the ocean floor. Afterwards, teachers would lead class discussion with thought-provoking questions such as ”Do you want your stomach walls to be coated with the suckers of eight-foot giant worms, or do you want to try the salad bar?”
It would mean the beginning of the end of the Big Mac and the Double Whopper with cheese, in much the same way that “Reefer Madness” turned a generation of kids away from marijuana.
— Con Chapman
Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.
“You don’t understand.”
I sat there expressionless. My wife’s probably right. I don’t have a clue. All I know is that I am tired and cranky. Harried and hungry. I need to use the bathroom. Badly. The seat of my pants is beginning to stick to the teak wood bench that is supporting my weary frame and the 14 gift shop bags alongside it. I imagine the plastic sign taped on to the bench as I get up will be saying, “Wet Pant.”
“This black dress with the gold metallic trim along the hem matches the Michael Kors shoes I have at home so much better.”
I certainly am seeing stars. This trip to the mall was a big mistake. My stomach and wallet are simultaneously becoming smaller. The man behind the counter of the Ann Taylor store gives me that “I know what you’re going through” look.
I decide to get a saleswoman involved. There’s no way I’m going to get stuck making the decision. I still want dinner.
“Excuse me, perhaps you can help us out.”
The help “us” is really help “me.”
There must be some reason women ask their husbands to come along shopping with them. Is it the free time that they can spend together? It’s kind of difficult talking to a dressing room curtain. And by the way, is there some reason why they can’t make the doors to these rooms extend to below my knees? Does everyone need to see my tubby thighs? They give you a number card equivalent to the total amount of items that you bring in. They called the tools and hardware department when my wife came in saying they needed to get an address plaque for her. When I entered with my clothes to try on one time, the surly employee smirked and I heard her mutter to her colleague, “That’s never going to fit him. He should try a tablecloth.” I responded, “Keep on counting those hangers, Madam; you might get promoted to the accounting department one day.”
Why do the clothes look so much better on the mannequin than on me? The ones without the heads are not very appealing. Do you think it’s cheaper? I guess some haunted molding company has a bunch of craniums lined up in his warehouse.
I believe that many arguments can be avoided by not accompanying one’s wife shopping. I mean does she really want me to say how I think she looks? Whatever you say, you’re doomed.
“You look great, honey!”
“Clam it, Avi. We’re not going for another hour.”
Or when she says, “This dress makes me look so fat.”
“You’re right, it does make you look … I mean tight-fitted apparel is very in style nowadays.
And when you finally pay for all the items and max out all of your credit cards, she always asks the same question in that familiar tone of voice, “Why did I bother bringing you with me?”
Perhaps the man behind the counter knows.
— Avi Steinfeld
Avi Steinfeld, a Chicago native, is a freelance humor writer with a master’s degree in school psychology. If you want a good laugh, reach out to him at email@example.com.
1. Hey, Facebook, finally, finally you said I might know someone and I do. I don’t like them, but I actually know them. Congratulations.
2. Hey, Facebook, thanks for thinking I might be friends with Carly Simon. I bet you think that song is about me. Don’t you. Don’t you?
3. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the Jaguar ads. Your faith in my ability to afford one, although misguided, warms my heart.
4. Hey, Facebook, I am not going to redo my yard with drought-friendly plants — I rent!
5. Hey, Facebook, I do not believe that there is a simple way to lose belly fat.
6. Hey, Facebook, I don’t give a sh** about ‘Constipation Clinical Trials.’
7. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the ‘Learn to flip houses’ ads, but I’m thinking, for most of us, a more productive ad would be ‘Learn to flip burgers.’
8. Hey, Facebook algorithm department, I put up a few Caetlyn Jenner posts and I get ads for hormone replacement. Well played.
9. Hey, Facebook, stop asking me if I’m friends with Joey Fatone. Even Justin Timberlake won’t admit to that, why should I?
10. Hey, Facebook, this suggested ad includes you: ‘Toxic Relationships: How To Recognize And Handle Them.’
11. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the reminders to events I’m not going to, by people I do not know, in places I’ve never heard of.
— Paul Lander
Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written stand-up material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in Huff Post Comedy, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, Santa Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month” in April.
First-time parents go through a slew of emotions when their first child is born.
They feel excitement and a surge of happiness; a sense of hope and clarity about their love towards this child. There are, however other, more anxiety-inducing emotions — the fear of not understanding the needs of the child and anxiousness to be the best parents they can be.
The media often paints a distorted picture of parenting, compelling dads — and mums even more — to be super parents. With this in mind, we have come up with the top 10 things every first-time parent should remember — from safety tips to some reassuring points.
1. Spoiling your child. Unlike what you may have heard, you cannot spoil a child with love. You do so when you give the child a substitute for your attention. It is important to love your child and to show this love, so he will know that there is someone in this world who loves him unconditionally. Moreover, you should not let your child cry for too long. Crying is your baby’s last resort at trying to communicate with you about a discomfort and he should not learn to self-soothe. Responding to his needs will give the child a sense of security that will serve him the rest of his life.
2. Advice. You are not an incompetent parent if you ask for advice. Choose someone you can trust and confide any issues you are facing.
3. Hygiene. Your child’s immune system will get stronger with time but until then, make sure anyone who cradles the child washes their hands and that your child lives in a clean environment.
4. Routine. As baffling as his 2 a.m. wailing might be, you will figure out what his cries mean. More than that, you will ease into a routine in time.
5. Bonding. The physical closeness for a newborn is crucial as it helps create an emotional connection. Try skin-to-skin bonding and make sure you keep your newborn close during the first few days.
6. Safety. Never underestimate how your child can get hurt. Cradle the neck and avoid bouncing or shaking when your child is still a newborn. When he starts to roam around the house, take precautions.
7. Development. Refrain from comparing your child to another because every child develops at his or her natural pace.
8. Nutrition. Obesity will be our children’s biggest issue, so make sure you provide appropriate and the healthiest foods for every stage of his development.
9. Playtime. Incorporate playtime everyday and expose your child to nature. With so many indoor distractions — from televisions to gadgets — it is easy to forget giving your child the chance to interact and play outside.
10. Personal time. Loving your child means being a happy parent. Make time for yourself by doing something you love and go on date nights to reconnect with your spouse. When you are with your baby, wrap him up in a sling and go for a relaxing walk. It is essential for you to get out of the house.
— Regina Due
A parenting writer, Regina Due empowers women through her writing and parenting tips.