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Public humiliation

Cindy Argiento We’ve all had embarrassing moments. My most recent one was forgetting to brush my teeth before I left the house in the morning and then wondering why everybody I spoke to kept backing away.

At least this time people didn’t laugh and point the way my classmates in sixth grade did when my skirt got stuck in my underwear. They all pointed and laughed as I walked to my seat. I guess I should be happy it happened before social media where it would be plastered for the world to see. Social media takes embarrassment to a whole new level.

Sometimes we’re embarrassed not for ourselves, but for others — “second hand embarrassment.”  You ever get embarrassed for a comedian dying on stage? You feel bad (squirming in your seat) knowing they know they’re bombing. Silence to a comedian is worse than a tomato in the face.

As part of a couple, if your spouse tells a joke and it falls flat, the embarrassment falls also on you — “second hand embarrassment,” embarrassment by relation.

In a house where the bathroom is off the kitchen, the stage is set for embarrassment. Tell me the genius who thought the kitchen/ bathroom combo was a good idea. It’s not.

You go to a friend’s house for dinner and halfway through the meal someone dashes to the bathroom. As you’re chewing your steak, you’re now being serenaded by moans and groans. You winch when you hear grunting and noises heard only from animals in the wild. You applaud when you hear the flush, but your glee is short lived as there’s a round two.

This round comes with cursing and air freshener being dispensed. Finally, the boxer emerges looking weary, but triumphant. Nobody acknowledges what went on in there. You keep eating and gradually realize you smell more than what’s on your plate. The smells wafting out from the bathroom and mingling with your food has created a rancid, overpowering stench of a cloud. People lose their appetite. Nobody wants to eat steak that smells like that. You gag with every bite. Guests offer excuses and make a hasty retreat. You, the hostess, watch people run to their car and think, how many friends did this cost me? Some embarrassing moments come at a high price.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in HumorPress.com “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.

Dear Bernie…
A Boomer’s wish list

Molly StevensI don’t usually get involved in political rhetoric for fear of becoming homicidal and spending my retirement behind bars. And I look dreadful in orange. Plus I don’t want to think about the last time I wore a jumpsuit.

Anyway, with the election intensifying, I’ve become entangled in some of the Bernie brouhaha.

I took a pen in hand and wrote him a wish list.

Dear Bernie,

I know you appeal to Millennials and Generation XYZ, but I have some ideas to help you capture Baby Boomers’ hearts and votes.

Since I worked two jobs earning my degree from a state college, and paid off my modest loans years ago, here is what I want: free plastic surgery. Why should the elite be gorgeous in old age with access to eyelid lifts, liposuction and Botox? You could benefit from this, too, Bernie, and it might make people stop fussing about your advanced mature age.

Buoyed by the courage it took to tackle ATM fees, I suggest you focus on coupons. Do you know how much time and brainpower we waste clipping and saving coupons? And what about carbon emissions driving a 50-mile radius to save $1 on a case of Bounty? Let’s eliminate the coupon system and give everyone discounts. This is the only fair strategy for those who forget their coupons, or find outdated ones crumpled in the bottom of their purses.

I know you have a plan to pump more money into Social Security, but why do I have to wait until I’m 66 to draw the full amount? Who is going to tell Gen X they will be working until they are…er….your age? I think we should get the maximum monthly check whenever we retire.bernie Should we be penalized for graciously creating jobs for the unemployed?

This is a leap year, and those who live in the northern hemisphere will experience an additional subzero February day. Maybe the younger crowd loves the cold, but I see it as an extra day to suffer arthritis pain. Is this equitable when those in Australia enjoy a summer bonus day every four years? And how does this affect their global warming trends? I propose a trade agreement with the southern hemisphere for an extra day in June every eight years.

Before you establish Medicare for everyone, please revoke annual “wellness exams.” There is no evidence to suggest this improves health, and it causes harm from the shock of the yearly weigh in. With the billions you’ll save by outlawing these exams, you will have funds for important things. Like my plastic surgery.

I am thrilled that you support vacations for everyone, but could you take it a step farther and guarantee me an annual trip to Florida? I watch with envy as the affluent 1% pack up their Airstreams and head south at the first threat of a cold snap. Coming from the northeast, it is shocking this isn’t on your campaign “to do” list.

I hope my suggestions can boost Baby Boomer loyalty. Unfortunately, Hillary has cemented most of the superdelegates’ votes, so you have a “Vermont snowball’s chance in Florida” of winning the nomination. I’m counting on her plan to cure Alzheimer’s by 2025 to keep me from wandering off into “Dementia-ville.” Despite my sagging eyelids and cellulite, my brain will be forever young.

Sincerely,

An Uneasy Baby Boomer

What would you add to this wish list? What are your ‘Bernie-ng’ desires?

— Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk, but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She blogs at www.shallowreflections.com, where she skims over important topics, like her love affair with white potatoes and why she saves user manuals.

Before I die: sink hair!

Barbara Younger HeadshotIn Dallas last summer, I visited a beer garden with a huge chalkboard. At the top, I read the words, “ BEFORE I DIE.” Below were blanks, each beginning: “Before I die, I want to______.”

From the looks of the crowd, I suspect the answers were chalked in by beer drinkers a lot younger than I am. I imagine they contemplated their bucket lists with a much airier attitude than we older folks do.

But this post isn’t about my bucket list. It’s about coming to terms with dying. Who’s working on it? Me.

My mother’s death last year from cancer at age 90, and the great courage she showed, give me the guts to really contemplate my earthly mortality. The experts promise that accepting death helps us live the rest of our years with gratitude and gusto.

Barbara Younger-Photo-Before I DieFor me, one aspect is finally realizing I can’t control much of what happens after I die (because I’m dead). Who takes my childhood dolls and my grandmother’s china? How many years (or months!) until my husband Cliff remarries? Will anyone remember (or keep) my published books?

What I cared about at 40, I can now let go.

But the other day we had friends coming over. I realized at the last minute that I had NOT gone over the bathroom. Yucky hair festooned the sink. My hair.

What if I weren’t here to clean the sink? What if I were dead and people came to pay their condolences to Cliff and the sink looked like it did last Friday night?

I don’t care if laundry blankets the couch. I don’t care if the sink is teaming with greasy dishes. I don’t care if shoes make a mountain by the back door. Do I care about sink hair? YES!

I told Cliff not to let anyone into the house until he has checked the sink. The sponge and cleaner are underneath. He said okay. What a man! I hope he finds an adorable second wife.

I’m not ready to die yet, but I’m one mini-step closer now that I know my sink’s appearance is secured.

How about you? What have you let go? What do you still worry/care about after you die?

— Barbara Younger

Barbara Younger writers an upbeat, witty blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause and Midlife Roller Coaster. Healthline placed Friend for the Ride on its list of Best Menopause Blogs of 2013 and 2014.

Releasing your inner Bigfoot

Con ChapmanDorothy Parker once remarked that Katherine Hepburn’s emotional range ran the gamut from “A” to “B.”

The average man’s mid-life crisis doesn’t even get that far.

There is the Automotive (sports cars), the Athletic (late-in-life marathons and Iron Man competitions) and the Amorous (making passes at young lasses).

To this triple-A club, allow me to add a “B” — Bigfoot, the apelike creature who walks upright like a man.

Since grainy footage of the creature first became available in the ’60s, I have dreamed of owning a Bigfoot costume. Now that I’m in the autumn of my years and I’ve begun to reflect on what I want to accomplish before I die, it is time to put on the sasquatch suit and go into the woods west of Boston deliberately, like Thoreau.

In the ’70s, Bigfoot was romantically linked with Farrah Fawcett, spotted in an Arkansas 7-11 with Elvis, and tabbed the front-runner to be Secretary of the Interior had Gerald Ford defeated Jimmy Carter.

He has since avoided the spotlight, resurfacing only for serious scientific study such as a 2002 National Geographic article. As with J.D. Salinger, Bigfoot’s mystique has been enhanced by his private nature, and his Garbo-like attitude has opened the field to imitators. Like me.

Those who have longed to dress as Bigfoot in the past but were deterred, like transvestites, from shopping publicly have found a haven in the Internet. There are numerous high-quality Bigfoot costumes available online for sale or lease. Ask your accountant which is right for you.

If you’re the handyman type, try the do-it-yourself models available on hunting websites. These strikingly realistic outfits can be fashioned from a few items you probably already own — camouflage, foam padding, jute and Shoe Goo.

Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area as prolonged exposure to glue fumes can cause behavior that would be considered erratic even for a creature that eats housecats.

Like the Evangelist you may ask, “What doth it profit a man to gain a Bigfoot costume and lose his wife’s faith in his sanity?” I’ll tell you what it doth profit as soon as I can untie my tongue from these frigging fricatives.

Roger Patterson, the man who faked home movies of Bigfoot, made a bundle selling prints to supermarket-checkout line tabloids. Our property borders conservation land, a perfect setting for the sort of Blair Witch Project cinéma vérité-style that is de rigeur for any Bigfoot flick.

After spending an afternoon staggering around your backyard in a sasquatch costume in front of a video camera, you’ll have college tuition for the kids pretty well covered. Then the little woman will think it’s a good idea.

Having a Bigfoot costume can also extend the life of your pets. If coyotes are moving into your neighborhood, there is nothing like the sight of a yeti to send them packing. No cruel leg traps for your neighbors with the PETA membership to complain about.

And then there’s the matter of convenience. No one likes to wait in line, but everyone wants that wake-up cup of coffee first thing in the morning, causing caffeine gridlock across the country all weekend long.

If you want to clear out a Starbucks in a hurry, try showing up some Saturday morning dressed as an 8-foot tall mammal. You’ll find plenty of empty seats, and maybe even a newspaper someone in a hurry left behind. Probably needed to feed his meter.

Fashion tip: Remove costume before meeting wife at Talbots.

Kids love furry animals, and you can make a lot of money at birthday parties with your new outfit. The going rate for a three-hour gig is $200 and can go higher if you’re willing to do a little face painting — assuming the kids will come out from behind the sofa.

That first check will seem like found money. Take your wife out for a meal at a nice restaurant — a well-timed growl from “Bigfoot” will get you the best table in the place.

Psychologists describe the mid-life transition as “middlescence” — the second coming of adolescence, without the complexion problems.

What could be more adolescent than staggering out of the house at night, hair down to your shoulders, dressed to scare people, smelling of Shoe Goo?

— 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.

Family pains

Hillary IbarraWe spent Christmas with my in-laws, and nobody got into a nasty fight about global warming or accused anyone of being a “bloody conservative” or “bleeding-heart liberal.”

No one sobbed while sharing about the worst moment in their lives, or gave a spouse a dirty stare because they were left out of the best. (Both were topics Dad once suggested so his son-in-laws could get to know the family better).

And absolutely no one pounded the table while guffawing during Christmas dinner, because someone was relating an inappropriate but hilarious story of personal misfortune.

I was out of my element, surrounded by strange, polite people.

When my side of the family gets together, we believe the only topics worth discussing are those that can cause violent emotional outbursts, such as religion, politics and anything deeply personal or embarrassing. To us there is no inopportune time or place for a spirited discussion.

When my sister Annie came into town for a weekend before Christmas, we hadn’t seen each other for over a year. We caught up by quarreling for two hours about fast food workers’ pay, what kind of comments Jesus would like on Facebook, and the best route to take on several global crises. We kept my oldest son awake, initiating him into a time-honored family tradition.

While Annie and I faced off from separate ends of the couch, my husband fell into a chronic stupor induced by overdosing on the fumes of other people’s emotions. I tried to bait him repeatedly, demanding to know if he had any opinions, but he curled up with a blankie in his recliner and played dead.

Eventually he retreated to bed and missed out on the best part, because my family laughs as hard as we debate. Harder, actually — especially if there’s booze around.

While downing a bottle of Muscadine wine, Annie and I made up by poking fun at ourselves.

Annie said that if anger is like a cream pie, our family is constantly throwing it in each other’s faces — “Here! You eat this pie, Sucker!” And we even enjoy usurping other people’s emotional pies and smearing them all over our own faces — “It’s not my business? It’s not my business?! Well, ha! I make it my business!”

A very generous family, we like to share our business. And your business. And the whole world’s business. My husband’s family? Not so much. They don’t even like to share when they’re taking a trip or having major surgery.

Given my family’s dynamics, I suppose it’s better for all concerned that my husband comes from a quieter, more reserved line of folks. Come to think of it, none of my siblings married stump-pounding, brow-beating, laugh-until-they-can’t-breathe kindred spirits, either. Generally, our significant others just stare at our antics and listen to our outrageous speech in dignified silence, stunned by our lack of tact and political correctness.

Our spouses — Lord bless ’em! — are calm, peace-loving people. They may not laugh as often or loud as we do, but they also don’t shove fluffy pies of fury in our faces on a regular basis. As Annie and I merrily pointed out, they digest their own anger pies just to keep the peace: Tamp it down! Tamp it down!

But if we bait them too many times, and those bad boys come back up?

*Shudder* Scary!

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org and was recently published at Hahas for Hoohas. She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Bedtime battles

Ann MorrowThe challenge of getting the kids to bed is comparable to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. With your tongue. It takes practice, patience and lots of drinks of water along the way.

There’s something in a child’s brain that releases endorphins upon hearing the word “Bedtime.” They would rather swing from the curtain rod and finger paint with the toothpaste than put on their pajamas and brush their teeth.

Every night, around 8, I announce that it’s time to get ready for bed. Which loosely translated, means “Let the whining begin.” It starts with, “Aww, Mom. Just 10 more minutes.” And for the third night in a row, I give in. But just this once. At 8:10, the announcement is made again, and the five-year-old will insist that she can’t sleep without a bedtime story. I suggest Goodnight Moon, but the kids insist on something more along the lines of Gone with the Wind. They settled for Snow White, but only if I did my impression of the wicked queen. Even after I declare “The End” and close the book, everyone is wide-awake. Everyone, but me. I’m red-eyed and grumpy and can do the wicked queen’s voice without even trying.

An hour later, a variety of unidentified sounds drifted from my sons’ room, followed by a chorus of giggles and snorts. As I stomped down the hall to investigate, I heard them diving into their beds, laughing uncontrollably. I did an about face and walked back to the living room. I’ve been playing the parenting game long enough to know that that if a 10-year-old boy thinks it’s funny, I don’t want to know about it.

Within 20 minutes, the kids will be in and out of bed at least 10 times, the cat will end up wearing doll clothes and at 9:45 a child will wander into the living room to announce, “My teacher wants me to bring cupcakes for our bake sale tomorrow.” I rolled my eyes and looked toward heaven. My son knew I wasn’t thanking God for the Wal-Mart bakery, and he sprinted from the room.

Just when I thought peace had settled over my home for the night, the youngest shouted, “Mommy, I’m thirsty. I need a drink of water.”

“No drinks at bedtime,” I shouted back.

“My throat is tickly and I need a drink real bad. Pleeeease!” After five minutes of whining, her siblings tired of the noise and a drink was delivered — via the big sister.

Finally. The house was quiet, and I collapsed into a chair with a book. I hoped to make it to the end of chapter one before nodding off. Halfway into page six, I was interrupted by a small voice. “Mommy? I think you should come downstairs and yell at Sissy.”

“Why would I yell at her? She’s asleep.”

“But she’s the one who gave me a drink after you said no. So it’s all her fault that I peed in my bed.”

By the time the sheets came out of the dryer, it was midnight and Betsy Wetsy was asleep on the couch. The dog was in my chair, surrounded by the chewed remains of my book. I was too tired to read, anyway, so I shut off the light and shuffled down the hall to put myself to bed.

As I drifted off, I felt a tickle in my throat. I opened my eyes and thought to myself, “I’m thirsty and I need a drink of water.”

— Ann Morrow

Ann Morrow is a writer and humorist from South Dakota. She has four children and is legal guardian to three dogs, two cats and one husband. Her work has appeared in five Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

One for the aged

Jerry ZezimaNow that I have reached 62, the age at which geezers such as yours truly are eligible to take Social Security payments, I have made an important discovery.

No, it’s not where I put my glasses, because I don’t wear them, though I do use glasses to drink red wine, which I consider over-the-counter heart medicine.

My discovery is that I am now being carded again. But not when I buy wine, which is not surprising since I am almost three times as old as the minimum drinking age of 21. If you invert those numbers, however, you will get my maturity level.

I am being carded for practically everything else because I am — according to the U.S. government, whose taxes often tax my heart, which is where red wine comes in handy — a senior citizen.

A dozen years ago, I became eligible to join AARP, which stands for the American Association of Retired Persons, even though I can only now start getting retirement benefits but can’t get full payments until I am 66.

At the rate I am being taxed, unfortunately, I will be working posthumously.

Still, I have been eligible for senior-citizen discounts since I was 55 (inverting those numbers does no good) and have often been given the benefit of lower prices without being carded, which makes me wonder if I look like a geezer to younger people, which these days is just about everybody else.

Last year, for example, I went to the aquarium with my daughter, my son-in-law and my granddaughter. After handing the young (of course) person at the register my debit card to cover the $22 charge, my daughter said, “You should have asked for a senior-citizen discount.”

The young (of course) person at the register looked up at me and said, “I already gave it to you.”

“Is it that obvious?” I asked.

She smiled and handed me a receipt for $20.

I guess it was a fair trade-off.

What I don’t understand, in addition to everything else, is how the U.S. government calculates who is eligible for what, at what age they have to be to get whatever it is they are eligible for, and — this is the most important part — if the people making these decisions were drunk when they did so.

Take half-years. They are very important to toddlers, who don’t say they are 3, the age my granddaughter will turn next month. Instead, they insist they are “thwee and a half.”

This stops at approximately age 5 and doesn’t become important again until that period of time halfway between ages 59 and 60, at which point, according to a bunch of government employees who obviously had been out on a three-day bender, you have to be 59 1/2 to take penalty-free withdrawals from any of your retirement accounts, even though you can’t retire until you are 62, 66 or somewhere in between. I am reasonably certain, however, that you cannot be dead, in which case you have to pay another tax.

Another important half-year is 70 1/2, when you’re required to begin taking money from your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, with the exception of a Roth IRA or your 401(k), if you’re still working.

Since my name isn’t Roth, there isn’t enough money in my 401(k) for me to live on for more than the equivalent of one baseball season, there is no account on earth in which taxes are an advantage, and I am still working, though not to the satisfaction of my employer, I guess this won’t do me much good.

I would jump off a bridge, but first, of course, I’d have to pay a toll.

In fact, this whole thing is taking a toll on me. The only solution is to use the not-entirely-feeble excuse that I am old and ought to be forgiven for not understanding what the hell all these rules and regulations mean.

In the meantime, I think I’ll have a glass of wine.

— 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 Best, Leave 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 currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

The car was “intelligent”
and I wasn’t, darn it!

Colleen_LandryI read somewhere that when a man goes car shopping he should bring along his wife because she will ask about important details such as fuel economy, color and that lipstick mirror thingy. No kidding. My husband and I were at a car dealership recently and while he lovingly caressed the high-tech gadgets, I asked some pretty hard-hitting questions: How much does it cost to fill it? Does it come in mauve? As I’m getting into it, do these pants make my butt look big?

We bought our last car 13 years ago and it was fully loaded: It had roll-down windows, a cassette player and a steering wheel. Things sure have changed. The model we were considering had a park-assist camera, push-button start and landing gear. The dash looked like a Lite Brite game; the car was “intelligent” and I wasn’t, darn it! I suddenly longed for the simplicity of our weathered 2003 Corolla. My husband sensed my trepidation and said, “Sit down and play around with it.”

I slid into the driver’s seat and accidentally activated the heated, vibrating seats. Corolla who? My husband, meanwhile, was googly-eyed over the Voice-Activated Navigation system. “Check this out, honey,” he said. “You can ask it questions! Try it.” I gave it a shot and spoke into the air: “Do these pants make me look fat?” The nasally android replied, “Sorry. I didn’t understand the question. Please say something else.” I tried again, “Should I lose weight?” She countered, “Did you say you want to go to Kuwait?” Duh. Polite enough, but I certainly wouldn’t call it “intelligent.”

After the nine-hour tutorial during which I learned how to start the car, program my favorite radio station and flawlessly apply eye liner using the lipstick mirror thingy, it was time for a test drive. I suggested we take it down to the Hamptons for the weekend, but the saleswoman got all huffy so we went downtown instead. During lunch hour traffic, my gadget-crazed husband insisted I parallel park to test the park-assist camera. Apparently, the shrill, annoying beeping and flashing red light indicated I was ‘this close’ to taking out a fire hydrant. Now you tell me!

We arrived back at the dealership with nary a scratch and more importantly, my smoky cat-eye was unsmudged. We bought the car, obviously, because my husband couldn’t stop caressing the gadgets while proclaiming nothing had ever made him this happy. Whatever.

I admit it. I’ve forgotten all about that horse and buggy Corolla. I’ll have you know, I can now back into a parking spot, apply eye liner while driving and best of all: I’m losing weight from those vibrating seats. Who’s intelligent now?

— Colleen Landry

Colleen Landry has been writing since she was a beautiful and precocious child weaving tales of magic mushrooms turtles and princesses. Now a fully grown (ish) adult, her writing offers very little magic but lots of laughs. Colleen thinks laughing at others life’s stages is healing and infectious.  She has been published in Canadian Living magazine and the Globe and Mail, as well as various local newspapers. Colleen also teaches high school writing in an online environment where discipline is as simple as ‘Ctrl’ ‘Alt’ ‘Delete.’  She is married and has two teenage sons who eat even while asleep. Follow her on Twitter @LandryColleen and enjoy her blog, One Hot Flashin’ Mama.

Reflections of Erma