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Vaguebook to a writer’s rescue

Kate MayerBeen struggling a bit with the writing. My writing. To do or not to do.

Not with content; this is not writer’s block. I’ve got content, believe me. Everywhere I look life is screaming to be heard, stories aching to be told. Laughed at. Exposed. Teased, tormented, loved, shared. Told.

There are stories everywhere; it’s just hard to be funny when Texas is drowning. Hard to push gun safety when we are literally shooting ourselves to death every single day and Sandy Hook is turning into a “where? oh, there” afterthought for those outside our very fragile yet beautiful bubble.

Black folks are being trivialized and beaten and killed, and cops are being shot or ignored of their good work or acquitted of their bad and there’s no accountability and how can I just be funny when Kid3 is going to college and I’m left with a Boy who grunts his disgust and that’s if-and-only-if I somehow entice him into my presence. But he’s 15 now and this is all totally normal — I know that, it’s not my first teenage circus — and what am I complaining about when he’s a white boy protected by his skin from a life of injustice he can only experience on the news and lives here, in quiet, safe, secure Newtown with good schools and safe streets and cops are our friends and saviors when they’re not selling drugs from the privacy of their cubicle?

Sigh. That’s the inside of my brain. Today.

So, I don’t know whether to post or not to post. To submit my writing elsewhere and if so, how, when, to whom? And after how many rejections is it time to say Uncle? Do people even say uncle anymore?

So on my Facebook writer’s page, I vague-booked my lament with an oh-so-brief, woe-is-me pity post. Nothing like this which mirrors a diary-under-a-pillow-with-heart-shaped-lock-and-key circa middle school mayhem, but I can’t stop myself.

It was quick: just a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am quickie (see below). I posted without fear of being discovered because Facebook has an algorithm so “professional pages or writer pages or business pages” get seen by few to no one, unless I pay to “boost” it. Which I don’t because well, the vast majority of “likes” recruited will most likely be at family reunion correcting my spelling and ridiculing my ungodly obsession with restricting their God-given right to bear arms.

So I put my vaguebook pity party of one on the Kathryn Mayer facebook page: Why bother? Any of it? The funny? The family? The activism? Why keep laughing/shouting/crying in an empty room? I hit post, then signed off. Here’s how it went:

Screen Shot

So imagine my surprise when I found out the room is not so empty after all. Notice the reach of 737 people. Those are real people. Facebook says so. And you can’t see the comments here, but they’re ingrained in my heart and soul. For real. (And I’m only related to one of them. Maybe two.)

The comments, support, laughs, kudos were more than my heart could hold — all so very kind, so very positive, reminding me, like the whos in Whoville, “we’re here, we’re here!” Just keep writing, making us laugh, blush, cry and think.

Nothing vague about that.

I can’t even begin to tell you, oh invisible readers, friends, neighbors, strangers and writing mentors, how much this means to me, because there’s hundreds of me. Thousands upon thousands of writers writing and wondering if we do indeed matter.

Thanks for letting this one know she does.

—Kate Mayer

Kate Mayer is a writer in limbo, trying to find that delicate spot between writing what she loves and paying the bills. An irreverent storyteller with a bad mouth and big heart, she was selected to read at the 2012 NYC Listen To Your Mother Show. Today Kate is a forever ambassador for her home of Newtown, Conn., and dedicated advocate for gun violence prevention. She attended EBWW 2014 in a desperate search for her funny, and yet discovered so much more.

I hate my stomach

Charles HartleyI hate my stomach. Most people hate their stomachs. Look it up on Google.

Mine protrudes and is soft like an underinflated beach ball or, if you like, a misadventure into a dense, tangled forest. It is the definition of what health exercise scientists say a stomach should not be. They get published articles about this. Read about it if you want to get bored and feel bad about your stomach.

My stomach bulges. When I look down while standing up, I can’t see my toes because my belly is in the way. When I touch it, it feels like a bulging pillow that if you pricked with a pin would pop and ooze candy much like an off-white, undecorated piñata. My stomach feels as if it would be more comfortable to sleep on than a thin and beaten up one. Anybody would sleep soundly for eight hours resting their head on my belly.

I wish I had a muscular stomach. We can wish for many things in life but many we will never attain. Take being a billionaire. Many of us would like to be billionaire, but almost none of us will be, which is depressing.

About six months ago I was able to get my stomach to shrink a little bit. But even though I lost lots of weight, the stomach remained plump. My legs and thighs shrunk more noticeably.

“It’s all those years of eating fast food that got your stomach so big,” said my nutritionist, who has since fired me as a client because, well, I’m not sure why. My gut tells me in our meetings I got too argumentative, psychological and off topic, and he tired of that. “It will take a long time to undo all the building up of your stomach.”

This was not inspiring.

Shrinking my belly would require patience and time. I’m running out of both of those. We all are. Don’t you watch the evening cable TV talk shows? There you can hear all about this.

The thing about a stomach is when it’s thin, on a woman, it’s eye-candy especially on a beach in a bathing suit. Thin stomachs, especially tan ones, are jewels, almost as delicious as boardwalk caramel corn.

This summer my plan is to shrink my stomach, make it look like I’m a body builder. My plan will fall apart this afternoon when I take a nap after going to McDonalds for a Big Mac and chocolate shake.

My stomach will get bigger. My life will get shorter. My psyche will be damaged. My ego will take a hit.

And I will never see my toes again.

That stinks.

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

Cartwheels in the chicken coop

Burton W. ColeAuthor and humor columnist Burton W. Cole’s second novel, Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper (2014, B&H Kids), won the prestigious 2015 Selah Award as Best Novel for Middle Grades.

And Cole’s third “faith, fun and farm pranks” novel, Bash and the Chocolate Milk Cows, released May 1 from B&H Kids / LifeWay Christian Resources.

“It’s been a good month,” said Cole, a two-time attendee of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. “Bash, Beamer, Lauren and the rest of the gang are doing cartwheels all through the chicken coop. Except Beamer. He can’t do cartwheels. He’s doing somersaults. It’s quite a joyous mess.”

The Bash series of humor/adventure tales about kids romping on a northeast Ohio farm began with Bash and the Pirate Pig (2013), which also was a top three finalist for the Selah Award and a top 10 finalist for Christian Retailing’s Best Award for Children’s Books.

“I love sharing the silliness and pure joy of the goofy escapades I remember my siblings and cousins pulling growing up in the country, and how the love and discovery of God was such a natural part of all those awesome adventures,” Cole said.

The Selah Awards, which are presented at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in Ridgecrest, N.C., this year this year included hundreds of titles entered from 29 publishing houses in 14 genres.ChickenCoop-cover-copy

Cole is assistant metro editor at the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio. His award-winning humor column, “Burt’s Eye View,” has been appearing weekly in the Star Beacon, Ashtabula, Ohio, for 22 years and in the Tribune Chronicle for 19 years.

The Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist grew up on a farm in northeast Ohio and attended a small-town church with a slew of cousins and buddies. That same boyhood inspires his colorful and comical novels today.

In Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper, while Mom offers “anything” to get Bash and cousin Beamer out of the house, she really isn’t expecting them to use her good sheets to sail-snowboard off the top of the chicken coop, to put a pig in ice skates or harness the hog as the driving force of a pig-powered ambulance sled, or to use undershorts and bicycle inner tubes to build a snowball slingshot. Bash uses the most misadventurous methods ever imagined by a couple of cooped-up kids to try to harvest the Fruit of the Spirit. Beamer’s more concerned about the disappearing eggs and the pink, purple and orange paisley sleeping bag on the move, and the footprints in the snow.

Chocolate Milk CowsBash and the Chocolate Milk Cows features chickens dripping in strawberry-rhubarb pie run amok in a fire station, a goat painted in an explosion of circus colors, and the cows giving chocolate milk on April Fool’s Day. Just the typical weirdness Beamer encounters when visiting cousin Bash on the farm. Meanwhile, somebody’s holding up stores and feed mills. Beamer wants to figure out baptism, but instead faces the chocolate-loving robber with only his crazy cousin, pesky neighbor Mary Jane, and Morton, the goat of many colors, as his Gideon’s Army.

What’s in a name?
Ask Poppie

Jerry ZezimaI have been called many things in my life, not all of them repeatable in polite company, which I am seldom in anyway.

But the one I love to hear repeated is Poppie, which is what I am called by my 2-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.

My wife, Sue, who is called nothing but good things, especially by me, because without her I would be a four-letter word (“dead”), is known to Chloe as Nini.

I’m glad Sue and I have such wonderful grandparent names because we could have been called a lot worse.

I found this out recently when I saw that two fine family-oriented groups, BabyCenter (which provides advice on pregnancy and parenting) and the American Grandparents Association (which is what it sounds like), have each come out with a list of names that grandmothers and grandfathers are called these days, whether they like it or not.

At the top — or, if you prefer, the bottom — of the grandfather list is PeePaw. No offense to any guy whose grandchild calls him by that name, but I can’t imagine Chloe saying to me, “PeePaw, I have to go pee-pee.”

Then again, Poppie is perilously close to that post-Pampers potty predicament (and besides, it sort of rhymes), so maybe PeePaw isn’t so bad after all.

Then there’s Chief, which is considered a trendy name for grandfathers but sounds more like what Jimmy Olsen called Perry White in the 1950s “Superman” TV series. It conjures the following exchange:

Chloe: “Hey, Chief, pass me the coloring book.”

Me: “Here you go, Honey. And don’t call me Chief!”

A great grandfather name (though not a great-grandfather name) is the unlisted and presumably unique moniker bestowed on David Wright, not the New York Mets slugger but a professional window cleaner who recently cleaned the windows at our house: Granddude. For a goateed guy who used to be both a lawyer and a monk, it fits.

My buddy Tim Lovelette, who has four granddaughters, has two grandfather names, both on the AGA list: Big Daddy and Grumpy.

“Both are pretty accurate,” Tim once told me.

His wife, Jane, also is known by two names on the AGA list: Go-Go (she’s a marathon runner) and Grammy (I didn’t know she could sing, but I eagerly await her first album).

If Jane becomes famous, she’ll join other celebrities on the AGA list, including Donald Trump, who is known to his grandchildren — with great affection, I am sure — as Mr. Trump.

I can just imagine one of his grandkids sitting on his knee, running tiny fingers through his comb-over and asking, “Mr. Trump, will I be a hair to your fortune?”

On the grandmother side is Martha Stewart, who is called, simply, Martha.

I’m sure she would recommend using fine china to serve Count Chocula to your perfect little grandchild. And, in a pinch, she’d probably pass along this creative tip: “If you run out of Huggies, a doily will do.”

There are no celebrities on the BabyCenter list, but there are some pretty creative grandparent names.

For grandmothers: Gramma-Bamma (“Gramma-Bamma, would you read me ‘Green Eggs and Hamma’ ”?), Safta (“Do I Safta go to bed so early?”) and Yumma (“Yumma, Yumma, your cookies hit the spot in my tumma!”).

For grandfathers: Bumpy (“Get in your carseat, it’s gonna be a Bumpy ride”), Coach (at bedtime: “Put me in, Coach”) and Koko (“I’m cuckoo for Koko!”).

If I can help it, Chloe will never see these lists. But she’d no doubt agree that some grandparent names are better than others.

Take it from Nini and Poppie.

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won five 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.

To the small things of marriage

Christina LipariniIn a couple of weeks, my husband and I will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.

We’ve discussed possible plans. I suggested a weekend spent organizing our house. While I believe that one will be vetoed as simply too un-anniversary-like, I’m cool with us not doing it big or giving each other expensive gifts.

I have told him as much, and I believe he would like it notarized.

I don’t blame him. In our dating years, I would have told him this and then expected him to pass my test of getting me a gift anyway. In many different ways, I held him up to a standard of romantic gestures and drama that was unrealistic.

My romantic expectations were shaped by movies and soap operas. As a teen, I had many a daydream where I cast myself in “Sixteen Candles” and enjoyed the romantic gestures (Porsche! cake! panties!) of Jake Ryan. He had to compete with Lloyd Dobler and his boom box.  On the small screen, I watched soap operas and pined after a character who was ultimately played by two different actors and killed off at least that many times.

With long-distance dating, my then-boyfriend and I had the opportunity for reunions after separations and weekends where we could essentially shut out the typical day to day. We had our fair share of romantic gestures.

Then we got married.

All of a sudden, we were living not only in the same state but in the same space, and a very small one at that. He realized that I was far messier than I had made myself out to be, and I realized that he wasn’t kidding when he said he was messy. We squabbled and stewed.  As our bathroom was arguably the largest and most private space in our apartment, we both found retreat in taking baths.

Ten years later, we have a good marriage. I attribute some of that to us each having our own bathrooms. Beyond that, though, I have learned to appreciate the many small ways that my husband has shown me his love. To name a few:

He puts my toothbrush head in the sanitizer for me.

He doesn’t say anything when I stand at the fridge squirting whipped cream into my mouth (despite my resolution to cut out dairy and sweets).

He makes me bacon.

He set up an extra-large monitor so that I would stop squinting and leaning forward when working on the computer.

I am annoyed by some of the small things he does (e.g., leaving his socks on the floor or burrowed at the foot of the bed), but I’ll soldier on picking up his socks because the small things he does to show me his love outweigh them. I know that there are small things I do that annoy him, too (e.g., insisting on using a steak knife for all cutting and chopping in the kitchen).

While my teenage heart belonged to Jake and Lloyd, my more mature and fuller heart belongs to my husband and our life built on a million small things.

— Christina Liparini

Christina Liparini is a therapist, educator and mother. For 15 years she has treated children and adults coping with anxiety, depression, sexual assault, other traumas, grief, loss, eating issues, career concerns and more. She also has used her counseling background to support the needs of mothers and mothers-to-be.


Public Enemy No. 1 — not me

Helene Hirsch WingensAbout a month ago, with husband and kids in tow, I was returning to frigid New Jersey from balmy Palm Beach, Fla. I was already in a funk when a TSA agent pulled me out of an airport security line for “extra screening.”

The agent pointed at me and said, “Palms up.” With my usual smooth eloquence I said, “Huh,” so the TSA agent repeated, “Palms up,” at which point I complied. She swabbed my hands with some device and told me I needed to wait for the results before proceeding. It was neither humiliating nor terrifying but it was, and here’s the understatement of the decade, preposterous.

Security is a serious business. I understand that sometimes it can be inconvenient, intrusive and seemingly arbitrary and really I’m down for all that. In light of the fact that TSA doesn’t know me, I thought I should let them know that when it comes to extra screening they are not only barking up the wrong tree when it comes to me, they are not even in the right forest.

Here are the top five reasons why TSA need never again swab my hands for traces of explosives:

5. As a child, I cried and begged for a chemistry set because I thought it looked like such fun, but when I got one as a gift, I cried all over again because that chemistry set was, without exception, the most disappointing gift I’d ever gotten. It was not even a little fun. You see chemistry has never been my ish, leading inexorably to the conclusion that my fate as a person incapable of making a bomb was sealed long ago.

4. I am a 50-year-old woman whose perpetual state of being is drop-dead exhaustion. Removing my shoes in a security line while standing and at the same time getting my coat off, my electronics out of their cases and onto the conveyer belt and my pockets emptied with people breathing down my neck is the stuff of my nightmares. By the time I’ve done all that, I’m all in. Doing all of the above whilst simultaneously masterminding criminal activity — for goodness sake, I can’t even remember where I packed the toothpaste.

3. I can’t even maintain the simplest lie, so if I was up to no good, would I be waltzing through security without breaking a sweat? When the Israeli security agents for El Al Airlines ask me if I packed my own suitcases, even though I did, I get so nervous I feel like I’m going to vomit.

2. I travel with my children, the very children whom I’ve spent the last 22 years cherishing and nurturing. I take care of every last detail of their lives. From years of sleepless nights, loose braces, badly broken out skin to hellish school projects, I have poured body and soul into these children. I have given them my life’s blood and I can assure the TSA I am most certainly not building explosives and stewarding my children onto an airplane with those explosives. When I decide to take these kids out, they will know it. There will be no ambiguity, and there will be no trace of explosives on my fingers because I will be ripping their hearts out, as any self-respecting Jewish mother would do, not blowing them up on an airplane. Common sense, people, common sense!!!

1. To be perfectly honest, loud noises followed by puffs of smoke terrify me.

TSA, you have my admiration, respect and thanks but you can just go ahead and cross me off the list of people you need to worry about because, trust me, you’ve got bigger fish to fry.

I am not now, nor will I ever be #publicenemynumberoneorevennumbertwo.

— Helene Hirsch Wingens

Helene Hirsch Wingens is a mother of three boys, wife, daughter, sometimes writer and retired lawyer. With 50 in the rear-view mirror, she’s trying to figure out if there’s a second act — and what it is. Her writing can be found online at, The Forward and


Anne BardsleyI first met Elizabeth when she walked into my gift shop, introduced herself and plopped in my chair.

“My legs are so fat,” she reported. She was eight years old then. She had red curly hair, fair skin with freckles, bright blue eyes and a very large spirit. Her parents were the new owners of a shop next to mine. She became my assistant and spent her days in my store. We became good buddies.

Every Saturday I’d bring her a little gift. I found itsy bitsy CD singles. They hooked onto a keychain. By the end of the summer, she looked like a maintenance man carrying her CD clip on a belt loop. I bought her sparkly nail polish, candy and other fun little gifts.

She invited me to her class for Jeopardy Science Day. I felt like royalty. When I arrived at the classroom, her eyes lit up! She introduced me to all her friends. I was smiling really big; I was having so much fun. One little boy ran to get me a chair and the little girls led me to my seat. Elizabeth was not happy about that. Getting me seated was her job! These little kids were so thoughtful. Then her dad arrived and she asked, “What are you doing here? Anne and I are going for ice cream after the contest.” Her dad grinned at me and sat with the boys. The kids kept peeking at me and whispering. I was sure they were saying, “Elizabeth is so lucky to have her for a friend.”

We went for ice cream cones after the contest and sat on the bench. “I really had fun today. Thanks for inviting me,” I said. She took a few more licks of her double-dip cone and said, “I told them about you.” I thought she meant that she hung out with me at my store and we laughed and had fun. “What did you tell them? I asked curiously.

“I told them that you were a really nice lady and my friend. You suffer from menopause and you can’t remember a thing.” I almost choked. That’s why the little boy ran and got me a chair and the girls led me to my chair. They thought I was disabled!

Elizabeth’s parents told me they were her foster care parents and eventually adopted her. This was no secret. I told Elizabeth I was so happy they adopted her. She said, “Yeah. It was pretty tough in foster care. I didn’t like it. When I first went to my parents’ house, they had two St. Bernard dogs so that made it fun.”

A week later we were waiting for customers to arrive when Elizabeth said, “I want to tell you something.” She sat on my lap and said, “When my real dad was very sick, my caseworker took me to see him. I had to find the elevator and his apartment. She gave me a paper with his apartment number, 406. She dropped me off out front and I was only five. She should have come with me! I was so scared. I cried in the elevator. I found 406. I knocked three times before my dad opened the door. When he saw me, he smiled really big and gave me a hug.” She wiped a tear.

“Dad told me that I was a good girl, and it wasn’t my fault that I had to go to foster care. My mom was a drug addict, and he had problems, too, so they couldn’t care for me.” I am now envisioning my sweet Elizabeth being taken from her home, and tears are dripping all over my shirt. I didn’t move to wipe them in fear of breaking the spell. She handed me the tissue box and said, “I never met anyone who cries as much as you do.” I tell her it’s because I have a tender heart and tears are a good thing. She finishes by telling me, “I just wanted to tell you that. I’ve been thinking about telling you. No one else knows.” She handed me more tissues.

Elizabeth’s mom asked if I’d have her overnight so she and her husband could go to a concert. “Well, yes! I’d love to!” She arrived with her backpack, computer, music CD bracelet and a stuffed bear. We made cookies, watched a movie, ate popcorn and she taught me new dance moves. Remember, I have menopause. I am a slow learner. My teenagers rolled laughing at the sight of us.

Elizabeth was not like my kids. She never broke the rules. My store was conveniently located just 15 steps to the ice cream shop. At two in the afternoon, I‘d ask, “Want an ice cream cone?” I told her it kept our bones strong. She always had to get permission to have one. My kids would have hidden behind the counter and eaten it without asking. Besides, who says no to ice cream? I was in line ordering our cones when she arrived to say, “Mom said I won’t eat my dinner. I can’t have one.” I offered to share mine with her. She stood firm. The answer was no.

In time I had to close the store. After 9/11, sales plummeted and I really dreaded closing it. There was no choice; it had to close. I promised Elizabeth we’d stay in touch. I gave her money to keep in her purse. If she ever got stuck, I’d come get her. She giggled and asked, “What if I was in trouble? Then would you come get me?” I poked her in the arm and told her, “Absolutely, I would get you then.” She poked me back.

We never did keep in touch. My life got busy, and our teens were growing. I drove by her house one day, but it was empty. I was hoping we’d go for ice cream and catch up. No one knew where they moved. Their store had also closed.

How do you lose a little girl? She’d been let down so many times, and I let her down again. We moved to Florida and I still tried to find her address to send her a note and a beach T-shirt. I called my old store neighbors, hoping someone might know where they moved, but no one knew. It’s been eight years now, so she’s 16. I wonder what she’s like. I bet she still has that curly red hair, and her blue eyes still sparkle. I pray she still has that huge spirit and lights up rooms when she walks in.

If anyone ever meets a girl matching that description, please ask her if she ever had a friend with menopause named Anne. Please ask her to use the coins in her purse to call me. Tell her I love and miss her — and I won’t lose her again.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She’s been featured on Scary Mommy,, Better Writers After 50, local magazines and more. She barely survived raising five children and is so glad she didn’t strangle them as teenagers. Grandchildren have erased those late night, missed curfew, memories.  She lives in St Pete, Fla., with her husband and two spoiled cockapoos.

Tomcat, thy name is Petunia

Steve EskewAs I was saying last week at the Mensa meeting, naming a pet is neither brain science nor rocket surgery. Good thing it ainʼt. I rescued an adorable kitten on a cold day last December that I named Petunia Louise in honor of Porky Pigʼs girlfriend.

Well, kids, within a couple of months, it became, shall we say, doubly clear, that Petunia was a male kitten. Did I rename it? Of course not. This is Steve here. Besides, Petunia loves his name. In this age of transgender issues, heʼs considered a really cool cat in some circles.

Being of insane mind and body, Iʼve never subscribed to the pink-and-blue nonsense that defines masculine and feminine. So, I painted the kitten nursery lavender, the same color as my karate belt. (Perhaps heʼd prefer purrrrple).

Androgynous names have always invaded our culture. Iʼm no etymologist of names, but Iʼve heard that the name “Beverly” used to be a male name, and that “Shirley” was also a male moniker until Shirley Temple came onto the scene. If there can be a Marilyn Mason and an Alice Cooper as male rock singers, there can be a male kitten named Petunia Louise Eskew. Maybe thisʼll start a trend for male animals and even male people to be named Petunia. Maybe not. But, when referring to Sylvester, Tweety does not say “I taut I taw a tomcat.” Furthermore, Tweetyʼs own gender itself remains up to question.

Heavens to Betsy, Iʼve been known by some considerably unwanted names myself. For openers, when Mom was pregnant with me, she wanted a girl. She referred to the fetus as “Stella.” Ergo, everyone else referred to me in my fetal state as Stella. With apologies to Johnny Cash, I tell ya, life ainʼt easy for a baby boy whoʼs been known for nine months as Stella.

Trapped in a fantasy world of wishful thinking, Mom clothed me in a “long shirt” and, to this day, she insists that the long-shirt look was all the rage for male infant attire in the mid-20th century. Well, funny thing about those shirts. They all look like dresses.

My brother Dave and our mutual buddy Gabe Thompson verbally ganged up on me once when we were each in our 20s. Referring to my relaxation technique of knitting, Gabe declared that he had never known anyone with more idiosyncrasies than I. I countered his jab by pointing out that, instead of choking someone, I chose to fight stress by knitting.

“And while weʼre discussing my idiosyncrasies,” I said, “hereʼs a news flash: I was never weird until I started hanging out with you guys. Your own weirdness simply rubbed off onto me.” My brother interrupted by saying, “Oh, come on, Stella. Youʼve been weird ever since you posed for your baby pictures wearing a dress.” Both of them laughed their fool heads off.

Stella? Iʼll never know how he first learned about my fetal nickname but, once upon a rainy day in our preteen years, my brat brother and I played cards. He was the self-appointed scorekeeper. Gabe Thompson happened to come in during our game and checked out the score. Gabe looked puzzled and said: “Who the hell is Stella? From that day to this, whenever Gabe sees me from a distance, he does his best imitation of Brandoʼs Stanley Kowalski and screams: “HEY STELLA!” How original.

Let ʻem laugh, but itʼs that nickname that drove me to become a semi-macho man and to seek the coveted lavender belt in karate. Hopefully, Petunia will emerge from the lavender cat nursery as a semi-tough tomcat. Iʼm a little worried now because he seems to be rather effeminate. Oh, heavens to Harry, it just canʼt be the name, can it?

Whatʼs in a name anyway?

Perhaps I should give Petunia a masculine nickname to butch him up a bit. It worked for me. I started calling myself Hunter as a sort of antidote to Stella. I became so masculine that I started writing gonzo journalism and boldly rode with Hellʼs Angels when I wrote a story about them. Due to the danger of such a stunt, I decided not to use my own byline for the article so I used the name Hunter Thompson.

My Mensa name is Steve Martin.

Ah, I just thought of the perfect nickname for Petunia. How about Pinocchio? Now whereʼd that thought come from?

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website,

Reflections of Erma