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Love at first fright

Mary Roberson WiygulIt was my seventh grade year, and fall had cast its spell on everyone in the booming metropolis of Pope, Mississippi (population 246).

At school we were busy planning our annual Halloween carnival. A cakewalk, games, pony rides and even a marriage booth had all been planned, but the most anticipated attraction every year was the haunted house.

Usually the excitement that surrounded this carnival staple was prompted by the idea of being scared out of our minds, but this year there was a different sort of electricity associated with it. This was the year the “power couples” in eighth grade issued an edict: you must enter the haunted house with your boyfriend/girlfriend, and you must kiss.

This wasn’t a big deal for the couples of eighth grade. Most of them had been locking lips for quite some time. Actually, it didn’t really affect most of the lovebirds in seventh grade, either. The majority of them had kissed at least once and had moved on to practice makes perfect. There was only one couple left who had yet to cross that threshold: my boyfriend and me.

The only practice I had ever had at kissing was with the mirror at home; so needless to say, I was petrified. My boyfriend, on the other hand, had kissed a girl in first grade, so he was experienced. Feeling that communication was key in our relationship, I confessed my apprehension about my lack of skills to my dearly beloved. He was quick to console me.

“I got this,” he said with an upward nod.

Young and in love, I trusted him. After all, he was my man.

The day of the carnival the excitement was palpable. Consumed by a tidal wave of dread and teenage angst, my mind raced. What if I don’t do it right? What if he doesn’t like the way I kiss? What if… And then it was too late. The bell rang dismissing us for the carnival.

I got caught in the mad dash like a salmon swimming upstream and before I knew it, I found myself in the gym. There was my boyfriend, standing right in front of the haunted house. I took my place in line next to him behind five other couples, and before I could chew the flavor out of my Wrigley’s spearmint gum, it was our turn.

Holding hands, we stepped into the netherworld of the transformed locker room. Before the doors even shut, he went in for the kill. Right there between dead prom girl and teenage wreck victim, with the love song of the chainsaw playing sweetly in the background, and perfect strobe lighting, he kissed me… and missed. The kiss he had intended to land right in the center of my lips glanced off the corner of my mouth and slid down my face.

Relieved, I followed him through the depths of hell until we emerged once again into the gym. Avoiding eye contact, we stood in silence.

Then he spoke, “Darn strobe light.”

Sparked by the passion with which my man delivered this heartfelt diatribe, I was reminded of something Momma always told me.“If at first you don’t succeed, dust ya tail off and try it again.”

Without even looking his direction, I asked, “Wanna try again?”

“Yep,” he replied.

And off we went.

The second time, we got it right.

— Mary Roberson Wiygul

A Mississippi native, Mary Roberson Wiygul has taught in the public school system for more than 20 years. When not teaching, traveling or spending time with her family, she loves to write personal essays, short memoir pieces and poetry. She is currently a feature writer for Southern Sass Magazine, and her work has also been featured in Southern Roots Magazine and Magnolia Quarterly.

Newton to toss 500 footballs at Super Bowl

Sammy SportfaceCam Newton will toss 500 footballs into the Levi’s Stadium grandstands during next week’s Super Bowl.

While his Carolina Panthers teammates play defense, the team’s quarterback will heave the official NFL footballs, priced at $500 each, into the stadium crowd.

The balls will be housed along the Panthers sideline in a yellow moon bounce. So throughout the game fans can watch the 500 footballs bounce up and down like popcorn in a popcorn popper, view Newton sticking his head into the bounce, grab one ball at a time, and throw them short and low and far and high into the night. He will toss about half into the lower deck and attempt to rifle the rest into the upper deck, though that may be unrealistic because NFL football stadiums are big.

“I figure during those defensive possessions I have time to spin about 25 balls into the stands,” he said this morning while flying to San Francisco, the site of this year’s annual Freak Show. “With all the commercials during the Super Bowl taking up much more time than action on the field, I figure I can get most of them out of the moon bounce and into fans’ hands by halftime.”

The novel idea was hatched this week in the NFL’s headquarters office, which sits atop Manhattan’s skyline. Newton has been handing a football to one person in the stands after every touchdown he has scored this season and it’s being well received by the public at large.

“We figure the Super Bowl is going to be a snore so wanted to do something different to make the fan experience worth the $25,000 we charge per ticket,” the league said in a prepared statement.

On conference calls this week with Newton and NFL suits, there has been quite a bit of discussion about where Newton should throw the balls so that as many fans throughout the stadium can have a chance to catch one.

They settled on this scenario. From the Panthers sideline he will throw a hundred or so to fans on that side of the field.

But this is where it gets tricky. From the sideline while the Panthers are hitting Peyton Manning as he heaves fluttering ducks, Newton plans to chuck the ball across the field, over the heads of the Broncos players and, if he has enough arm power, into the lower deck of fans behind their bench.

There are two challenges with this that have yet to be resolved. The first is that receivers and defensive backs may get distracted by two balls flying through the air at the same time in perpendicular directions. This will create confusion in the passing game.

The second challenge is that if Cam doesn’t throw the ball far enough he may hit Broncos players — or even coaches — standing on the sideline. Or his throws might be so short they would hit Peyton Manning in the head or back or something like that.

However this gets resolved, Newton’s goal of 500 passes will be achieved because the league and Newton have committed to do this and don’t want to stain their credibility. They have an overwhelming desire to bring novelty and less boredom to the Super Bowl.

Being fair to everyone, Newton will save the last 100 balls for special purposes. He will show respect to fans in the end zones by firing 25 at each of the two sides of the field.

The end zone hurls will be timed either for when the action is taking place on the opposite side of the field so as:

a) not disrupt action;

b) to give fans something to watch besides commercials and dull and disruptive football; or

c) during extra point kicks that are made 93 percent of the time so lack dramatic tension.

During the half-time show, Newton will fire 50 at the featured band, “Cold Play.” At least half of them will be aimed at the drummer’s biggest drum because he may be able to puncture it and mess up the concert.

“It will be a cold play on my part,” Newton admits.

Priced at $500 each, the total outlays to buy the 500 balls will be something like $50,000. The NFL insists Newton pay for the balls because it is a dictatorship more focused on gauging prices of this upcoming event’s 30-second ads, upping the price today from the usual $5 million to $10 million.

As long as it can display its logo, the NFL did agree to pay for the moon bounce rental cost of $100.

— 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.

Valentine’s Day dance

Myron KuklaValentine’s Day has always had a special place in my heart among holidays. That’s because I learned some very important lessons about life one Valentine’s Day many years ago.

One was a lesson I’d never forget: girlfriends cost money.

You have to remember this happened in a time before political correctness, a time before the Equal Rights Amendment, a time before I had a job and money.

I was in the sixth grade and just coming out of that awkward stage where boys think it’s fun to show girls bugs and moving into that next stage where guys do other stupid things instead.

There was this girl, Rosemary, who used to wear her beautiful brown hair in ringlets that were popular in the days before orange hair. I had admired her from afar since we were in the fourth grade. Well, it wasn’t that far afar. We sat beside each other in class.

I actually had decided in the fourth grade to ask her out, but had waited a few years so as not to appear over-eager.

Our school that year was throwing this big Valentine’s Day dance in the gym. It was to be the social event of the season for all the sixth and seventh graders.

Somehow, I managed to talk to Rosemary without a bug in my hand and asked her to the dance. And with the faintest hint of blush on her cheeks, and a demure smile on her face, she agreed.

I was the happiest boy in St. John’s School that day. I literally floated home on air, carried by cherubs while Cupid tossed rose-petal hearts before me.

Sauntering into our house, I announced as casually as I could, that I would be going to the school dance on Saturday with Rosemary.

“You’re going to have to get her a corsage,” said my father, not looking up from his evening paper. “Girls like corsages.”

This was something I hadn’t planned on. Unwise as I was to the ways of the world, I didn’t realize the guy had to pay for the girl’s dance corsage. I just assumed corsages came with the girl. What a dumb system, I thought.

On the day of the dance, I pulled out my life savings of $5.78, which I had put away to buy a pocketknife. “Oh, well, this is for the love of your life,” I thought, stuffing the money into my pocket and heading out for the florist shop.

Now I have to say on a scale of 1 to 100 of the most useful things in the world, flowers hadn’t ever made my list. Entering the florist shop that day I had no idea of what kind of flower I should buy her. Luckily, the florist seemed to know something about flowers and recommended I buy a red-tinted chrysanthemum with my school’s letter on it.

“She will love it,” he advised me. It’s a good thing he was there to help, because, left to my own instincts, I probably would have bought her a flowering shrub.

The corsage cost $2, which was a lot cheaper than a flowering shrub, and I felt pretty good as I headed home with my tissue paper wrapped, red-tinted chrysanthemum in its heart-covered florist box.

Back at home, with all of the naive delight of a schoolboy, I showed my mother the corsage and she said: “Did you remember to get some candy for her mother. They like that, you know.”

It still amazes me that as wise as my parents were in the social graces of the day, it never occurred to them that I had no money to pay for these things.

Trudging down to the local corner store — with the remainder of my pocketknife fund — I bought not one but three boxes of candy — one for Rosemary, one for her mother and one for my mother. I wasn’t taking any chances this time, unless Rosemary’s father was also owed some sort of Valentine tribute. If so, he was out of luck.

My dad drove me to Rosemary’s home to pick her up. I have to say she was a dream in her organdy taffeta party dress, and with as much aplomb as I could muster, I distributed the gifts. I even pinned the corsage to the top shoulder of her dress without causing her any pain.

I’d like to say the evening was a huge romantic success. Actually, for most of the evening, the girls huddled on one side of the gym comparing chrysanthemums while the boys stood on the other side complaining about how much this dance had cost them. It was my guess that this one evening had thrown the pocketknife industry in our town into decline, if not outright collapse.

As the evening wound down to its final dance, I found myself at last alone with Rosemary, dancing to a slow song in a dimly lit corner of the gym. As the strains of the last dance came to an end, Rosemary looked up at me and said, “Thank you,” and gave me my first kiss.

And at that moment, I learned there were more important things in life than pocketknives.

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla, a Midwest freelance writer, is the author of several books of humor, including Guide To Surviving Life. He is also a regular contributor to the Erma Bombeck writing forum and has several humor pieces in Not Your Mother’s … books. Visit his webstore at squareup.com/store/myronkuklabooks.

All we need is love (and Kleenex)

Leslie BlanchardMy household is completely without coffee or toilet paper this morning. I was going to dash off to the store, but then I decided to write about it instead.

When my husband wakes up in a few minutes, I may re-prioritize, as he will undoubtedly dust off his “Staples of Life” speech. It’s all about the things which, in his estimation, are essential to living, and as such, no Decent American Home should be without them. We have several friends and family members who have had the pleasure of listening to him rant on this topic. In fact, if I weren’t the target of said rant, I would probably find it as amusingly entertaining as everyone else does.

In my defense, the “Staples Of Life” speech contains a “floating list” that is subject to change based on his current unmet need. In the early days of our marriage, it was fairly succinct. As time marched on, however, it morphed and grew. Suffice it to say, coffee and toilet paper occupy premium real estate.

Things my husband thinks are the “Staples of Life” include, but are not limited to, the following:

Coffee
, toilet paper (and its personal hygiene cousins, soap, toothpaste and deodorant)
, bread
, milk
, eggs
, lunch meat
, Diet Coke
 — and anything else I am out of.

I prefer to view this as more of a semantics issue. Sometimes, when I forget to swing by the grocery store, I embrace a looser definition of the word “need.” (As in, do we really NEED coffee or toilet paper?) There are several alternate sources of caffeine in our home. One can always brew oneself a nice soothing cup of tea or guzzle down an energizing can of Cola. As for the toilet paper, it’s a proven fact that women use it more often than men, so if I can make do with a box of Kleenex, then he can, too.

With that said, I can’t deny that there are flaws in my system of procuring goods from the marketplace. I have stubbornly refused to adopt the method that my spouse has endorsed through the years, which involves “taking inventory,” using a “Master Build-To Sheet,” and “Par Levels” to aid in re-stocking with organized efficiency. I acknowledge that, while this model works in his business, it’s just not me.

I’m better suited to the browsing method, which entails meandering through the grocery store, sans list, searching for cues and inspiration from the shelves.

Admittedly, I can’t always remember if we are already “stocked up” on an item, so I just buy it again. That is why we have five bottles of mayonnaise, three bottles of Karo syrup, eight cans of refried beans, six boxes of Cap’n Crunch (all opened), an embarrassing amount of Ramen noodles and no coffee or toilet paper.

This system is far from foolproof, which prompted this rather glib text from the hubby the other day:

husband's text

By the way, one of those bottles is “Miracle Whip,” which everyone knows is technically not mayonnaise.

I will probably swing by the grocery store today.

But with Valentine’s Day swiftly approaching, remember that all we truly need is LOVE (sniff). …Pass the Kleenex.

— Leslie Blanchard

Leslie Blanchard is a wife of one and mother of five, who writes the blog, A Ginger Snapped: Facing The Music of Marriage And Motherhood. After she received a journalism degree, she became the “Wind Beneath My Husband’s Wings” and didn’t write anything for 27 years, except her family’s Christmas letter. All that changed with the invention of the iPad with a waterproof cover. Now, she lays in the bathtub all day, neglecting her other responsibilities, and writes about life outside the tub. Her essays are titled after songs because, as she and her hubby puzzle through a marriage or child-rearing problem, they sing the song that particular issue reminds them of (with a pertinent lyric change here or there).

Hercules?
You’re kidding me, right?

Tracy BucknerWhen did we start naming winter storms, or more to the point, WHY are we naming winter storms? I can understand naming hurricanes and typhoons but naming a winter snow storm is a bit much.

Winter Storm Hercules was a case in point. I knew it was serious when Access Hollywood was pre-empted with a special report of the upcoming storm. Any time Kim Kardashian is pre-empted, you have to guess it’s pretty darn serious. I was surprised they didn’t have Snookie reporting from Belmar.

Naming a storm adds to the frenzy and the sudden extreme addiction to milk, juice, eggs and bread. I saw gals in ShopRite who hadn’t touched a piece of bread in five years with a ridiculous amount of bread in their carts. If I’m going down because of a snow storm, you can bet that it’s not milk and bread that I’m making sure I have available. The parking lot looked like the day before Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving, all rolled into one. Who knew so many drank milk?

The leading news story at 5, 5:30 and 6 was Hercules. The national news at 6:30 also ran it as their lead story. Two hundred fifty killed in Syria and the lead story was a winter storm…in the northeast….in January. Really?

I could understand all the commotion if this was happening in, let’s say — Arizona. But cold weather, dark and damp days coupled with snow and ice on the East coast in winter, the last time I checked., was normal. It’s why we choose to live here. Jersey Strong, baby.

Adding to the hysteria are the weather experts from Stanford, the weather specialists from the Weather Channel with their charts, graphs and markers, and let’s not forget the reporters trying to analyze while the snow and wind are blowing. “Look,” they shout, “snow and wind!” They highlight pictures of people sliding, falling and crashing. Do we really need experts with charts to tell us it’s a snow storm and to stay inside? Do you think they are such weenies in Fargo, North Dakota, or Omaha, Nebraska, every time it snows and gets cold?

While growing up, I can’t remember my parents ever caring very much about the weather. It’s New Jersey. It’s snowing. Big deal. What’s for dinner? Making a snowstorm in January major news? Fugetaboutit.

Back to Hercules. The experts were predicting it was going to begin snowing at 8 in the morning so many people, myself included, changed appointments, cancelled meetings and became unduly nervous about the driving we had to do. I found myself scanning the sky like I was looking for Santa. I checked the forecast on my weather app every hour. I was so obsessed I even checked the hourly weather in Detroit and Boston, where my kids were. It’s snowing in Detroit! No s— Sherlock! It’s January. I was ridiculous. But they made me ridiculous.

But with their Hercules forecast, they were wrong in their prediction as it didn’t start snowing until 7 p.m. that night and it was gone by the following morning. By the time it actually started snowing I had already eaten all the bread and drank all the juice. Now what, I wondered?

Don’t you wish you could be paid to be wrong as many times as they are? It would be like your doctor telling you that you have throat cancer only to find out it’s strep.

So now we are on to Winter Storm Janus, and I’ve decided I’m watching Netflix. I don’t need hourly updates; I can look out the window. I will NOT go to Shop Rite. I can make do with whatever I have available. There is always plenty of red wine and pasta in my house.

I will be OK.

I will avoid buying in to the hysteria.

We all should.

And as far as staying off the roads, I’m driving where I have to go, when I have to go. I’ll make the decision to drive on my own. I don’t need charts, graphs and newscasters reporting in a snowstorm outside to tell me it’s a snowstorm outside.

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune Newspaper of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills Newspaper, serving Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can see read other pieces and sign up to follow her on her blog.

Erma Bombeck, my friend and mentor

Sarah Hudson PierceShe laughed to keep from crying, and it became a way of life as she enriched millions of lives, including mine.

Though she’s been gone since April 22, 1996, Erma Bombeck lives on and will live on for generations because she not only laughed to keep from crying but she turned that laughter into words to uplift and feed the spirits of millions.

She laughed to keep from crying because her tears began early when her father came home from work one day, went into the hospital, and died the following day. She was only nine years of age.

Erma was left to a mother who grew up in an orphanage, the same as I, after the death of my father. She married when she was only 14 years of age. She saw her mother go bankrupt, losing all of their worldly possessions. Yet Erma was strengthened.

She was strengthened by using her talents, by honing her skills as a writer that began in a Dayton, Ohio, junior high school paper. She found humor to be a way of dealing with her life, of coping with a stepfather whom she long resented before she finally let go and realized how much he loved her as his own.

She first wrote obituaries, and once commented that she could make them die in alphabetical order. She wrote for a local newspaper before gaining national syndication.

I, too, wrote to keep from crying after I suffered a nervous breakdown in Mountain Home, Ark., after one too many moves as a minister’s wife in 1981. I wrote to survive.

And I wrote to Erma Bombeck because I instinctively knew that I needed a mentor, someone far more successful than myself who would encourage me in my wild pursuit as a writer. She always wrote back, herself, not through a secretary.

Writing to Erma became a turning point in my life! With each letter I was strengthened. I jumped for joy! I went into orbit with her words of encouragement.ErmaBombeckColumn,1986

Once she said, “If you have talent, it can’t be held down.” Another time she said, “Just think what you could write if you gave up defrosting and flushing.” And she was known to say “If you do housework right it will kill you!” She also said, “Nothing would please me more than seeing Sarah Hudson Pierce’s picture on a book jacket.”

It happened.

Although I’d published numerous poems and columns for publications that paid in copies only, it wasn’t until late 1985 that I finally sold my first poem for $5. I sent her a photocopy of that check; she quickly wrote back and told me that I’d inspired her February 26 1986, syndicated column. I was ecstatic! I knew I’d make it with her encouragement.

Erma Bombeck made a difference to everyone she touched. She knew what she was doing. She lives on!

— Sarah Hudson Pierce

Sarah Hudson Pierce is a syndicated columnist, the author of five books and the host of her own television talk show for nine years. She is president of Ritz Publications, a company she founded in 2002.

 

Parenting job titles

Christina AntusOdd jobs.

That’s what a big part of parenting is comprised of. I went to college to get a degree and skills in a field of study, so I would know how to do all the jobs that were required of me. I had kids, and suddenly a list of new job titles popped up for things I didn’t even know I would have to do, like:

Sippy Cup Lid Fastener
I am the person in charge of making sure this lid is on right because if it isn’t, that bad boy is going to pop off when someone throws it across the room, or I sit on it in the middle of church and have to go up for communion with a soaking wet ass.

Crumb Collector
Off tables, chairs, out of beds. No place is too big; no crumb is too small.

Pillow Enforcer
This is a bi-hourly issue in my house where my kids run around like a category four hurricane and pull every pillow in our house off their base. Pillows are moving around in mid air like they are controlled by Carrie-like telekinesis.

Cat Rescuer
There is nothing more important to my cats than not being put inside the toilet.
*This applies to all household pets.

Blanket Getter
Everyone always needs a blanket. Even if it’s 97 degrees outside, someone, somewhere in my home, will ask for a blanket. Instead of vibrant, energetic toddlers, my living room often looks like the sitting area of a nursing home. Except instead of people knitting, they are eating Goldfish crackers out of Sippy cups and putting puzzles together with the wrong pieces.

Toilet Paper Re-Roller
Because that four-mile trail of toilet tissue isn’t going to roll itself back around the cardboard tube that someone chewed on before casually tossing into the toilet water.

Vomit Catcher
Whether it’s in a bucket, a trash can, a blanket, a towel or your bare hands.

Pocket Investigator
It only takes one pocket full of tissue to travel that daunting journey through the wash-and-dry cycle to make sure you never skip checking a pocket again.

Word Repeater
Sometimes fast, sometimes ridiculously slow, always more than 40 times because the toddler brain does not respond to anything that isn’t presented in the form of food, bright colors or fun sounds.

Snack Deliverer
No one sympathizes more with delivery drivers than parents. Except we don’t get paid, and the request often comes in the second your butt cheek grazes a couch fiber. The tips are also worse: “Mommy, the goldfish taste better when the other side is facing up.”

Back Scratcher
Okay, maybe I don’t mind this one so much. Probably it’s because they’re my babies. But, I draw the line when someone says, “Can you scratch my butt?”

Searcher of Socks
If I had a dollar for every sock that lost a pair, I would be able to keep buying socks instead of wondering when the day will come when I finally find a gigantic pile of discarded singles.

A collective list of useless skills, which will be useless beyond the first years. A lifetime of memories and the chance to look back on people who have kids after you shake your head and say, “I remember those days. Hey, while you’re up, could you turn my goldfish crackers, so they’re facing the other way?”

— Christina Antus

Christina Antus lives in Denver with her husband, three kids and two cats who still haven’t caught the red dot. When she’s not neglecting laundry, or avoiding the grocery store, she’s writing and making mediocre meals for her family. You can find her overthinking things on her blog, or you can follow her on Facebook.

Rinse and repeat:
A mom’s beauty regimen

Courtney BennettI should have known better.

Usually I put a hard stop to the up-sell, but the cosmetics salesperson caught me at a vulnerable moment.

I’d come in to get my makeup done for a party. The bright fluorescent light at the makeup station spotlighted every age spot and discoloration.

“Are you wearing at least SPF 30 every day?” asked the makeup artist. Nope, not year-round, I had to admit. After our session, she led me back to the sunscreen section. As I was browsing, desperate to prevent further sun damage, another salesperson pounced.

“How do you take off your make-up?” he asked. “I’m just a soap-and-water gal,” I said, putting up a little resistance.

“That’s fine,” he said, “but let me show you this amazing Japanese-inspired cleansing system.” Too much time and money later, I left with a special cleansing oil and a fancy clay-based sponge. That night, I dutifully used the new oil and sponge to remove my make-up and hung the sponge in the shower to dry.

The next evening, my husband emerged smiling from the bathroom. “Is that your sponge that our son is using?”

I walked in to find him reclining in the tub, gently cleaning his (ahem) with my new sponge. I rinsed it thoroughly and found a new hiding place.

My friends wanted to know — would I use it again? Of course. I’m a mom. Rinse and repeat.

— Courtney Bennett

Courtney Bennett is the mom of three kids, two typically developing girls and a boy with special needs. In addition to parenting and blogging, she works in education policy for a university. She has contributed pieces to Sunset magazine, Psychology Today, parenting magazines, public radio and the op-ed pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer. She spent a long time in school avoiding the real world and holds a Ph.D. in communications and an MSc in social psychology.

Reflections of Erma