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I’m still not sure why he married me

Kathryn LeehaneIn retrospect, all the warning signs were there that my husband never should have married me. He just didn’t heed them. Some days I question his judgment. Other days I’m just grateful that he was either blind or really horny in his early twenties.

Here’s what he overlooked:

• He witnessed me verbally assault a mutual friend who dared to eat one of my French fries at a restaurant. Our poor friend cowered in the booth as the rest of the patrons stared in wide-eyed horror.

• The first time I went to his parents’ house, his mom offered me bacon. Not cooked bacon, mind you. She had bought extra bacon at the store (it was on sale), and she offered me a package of uncooked bacon to take home. While this may seem slightly odd, the odder part of the story is that I DIDN’T TAKE THE BACON.

• Early in our dating history, I challenged him to a drinking contest. He had a good nine inches and 75 pounds on me, but I thought it was a good idea. Turned out that it wasn’t. I lost the contest. And then lost the contents of my stomach and my dignity in the bar bathroom.

So we’ve established that I am was am was selfish, foolish and arrogant. But he looked past those traits. Perhaps the most GLARING RED FLAG was waving the first time he made dinner for me.

At the time, I was in my early twenties and no culinary connoisseur. I was fairly adventurous, though, and he wanted to show me the world of sushi. He wanted to expand my horizons and open up my eyes to new cuisine. (You know he totally wanted to get lucky.)

Because he knew I had never tried sushi before, he opted to make California Rolls, the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich of the sushi world.

He went shopping at the nicest grocery store in town. He brought his own sushi rolling mat and other cooking supplies. He served me wine and put on music while he carefully made the seasoned rice and lovingly prepared all of the other ingredients.

And then he served me the most beautiful sushi I had ever seen (I had never seen sushi) and showed me how to dip and eat the pieces. I was gushing and smiling and tingling the entire time. Until I put that piece of sushi in my mouth and bit down.

I don’t know if it was the texture of the nori or the tang of the vinegar in the rice or the foreign combination of foods on my unrefined palate (I like sushi just fine now), but I couldn’t keep chewing. I bit down, and my mouth froze — as though I had bitten down on a piece of excrement. I fought back my gag reflex and tried my best to smile at this fabulous man.

“Well?” he asked expectantly. “What do you think? Do you love it?”

Here was this handsome guy in my kitchen trying so hard to impress me, and all I could think was, “There is NO WAY I can choke this sh*t down.”

So I didn’t. I bolted out of my chair, ran to my bathroom and spit his beautiful sushi creation RIGHT INTO THE TOILET.

I unceremoniously flushed it down, rinsed out my mouth, and walked back to the kitchen.

And then he ordered a pizza and married me anyways.

— Kathryn Leehane

Kathryn Leehane is a writer and humorist living in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and two children. Along with inhaling books, bacon and pinot noir, she writes the humor blog, Foxy Wine Pocket, where she shares twisted stories about her life as a mother, wife, friend and wine drinker in suburbia. She is a contributing author to several anthologies, and her essays have also been featured on BLUNTmoms, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and more. You can follow Foxy Wine Pocket on Facebook and Twitter.

Plastic nightmares

Judy ClarkeGuess what these dimensions define? Cardboard: 21-5/8″ x 6-7/8″ Clear plastic cover: 9-7/8″ x 7″ x 1-1/8″ Zipper: 9-7/8″

Give up?

It’s the packaging that encapsulated the two standard-size, 20″ x 30″ pillowcases I bought this week.

Don’t ask me why pillowcases, and indeed sheets, blankets and any number of other items need to be zipped up in plastic. True, the ones blankets come in can be reused to store out-of-season clothes, for instance, and I’ve used the smaller sizes to keep things sorted when I travel. But really, why can’t we just purchase such things “unwrapped,” so to speak?

My mother made sheets and pillowcases from muslin. Sometimes she prettified the pillow “sheets,” as she called them, with embroidery. The thought of buying something she could make for “half the price” was scandalous to her. To be truthful, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven the first time I slept on store-bought sheets. There’s a world of difference between unbleached muslin sheets and soft, combed-cotton ones.

Five decades ago I remember buying sheet sets that were wrapped only with a pretty satin ribbon tied in a bow. Back then, “off-the-shelf” meant a sales clerk took the items off the shelf behind the counter and showed the items to you gently, almost reverently.  Today, sadly, the term means the customer takes it off a shelf herself, handles it, makes her decision, and often, if she decides against the purchase, she shoves it back any ol’ where.

Today’s self-serve mentality has redefined both shopping and packaging.

Recently, California became the first state in the nation to outlaw plastic-film bags. Stores will no longer be able to provide disposable bags to shoppers and they must charge for paper bags. The hope is that people will rely on reusable bags instead. Eliminating disposables will reduce the amount of plastic film that winds up in waterways, on roadsides, in trees and landfills. Of course, manufacturers are already planning protests, but couldn’t they retool their factories to make reusable totes instead? Of course they could; they just don’t want to.pillows

These thoughts were tumbling around in my head the day I found the most perfect pillowcases ever! Smothered though they were in zippered  plastic, they promised bedtime solace and no nightmares.

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self).

Benchley, Buchwald, Bombeck

Jerry-Zezima1-219x300I write an alleged humor column (I have to say “alleged” because I am not above suing even myself) for a simple reason: I am spectacularly unqualified to do anything else.

I knew I wanted to be a writer in high school, not just because I was the class clown, but because I could never do algebra. I was always better at subjects in which I really didn’t have to know the answers.

English composition was my favorite subject because I could BS my way through it. In senior year, we were assigned to write an essay (I forget the topic) and get up in front of the class to read it. Nobody wanted to do this — except me. Everybody took it seriously — except me.

I wrote the craziest, stupidest, funniest stuff I could think of. The next day, I got up in front of the class, read my essay and got big laughs. I thought, “Maybe I could do this for a living.” From that point on, my professional goal was to be silly and irresponsible and actually get paid for it.

A year out of college, I walked into the newsroom of my hometown paper, The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut, and announced that I wanted a job. When the editor, Roland Blais, asked if I had any experience, I answered confidently, “No.” I hadn’t written for either my high school or college paper.

Instead of throwing me out, which he should have done, Mr. Blais gave me a test. It was general-knowledge stuff: grammar, current events, history, things like that.

Obviously I did well enough because I was hired. But there were some questions to which I didn’t know the answers. Instead of leaving them blank or taking half-hearted guesses, I remembered what I did on that high school essay: I wrote the craziest, stupidest, funniest stuff I could think of. Later, as we sat in his office, Mr. Blais told me, “That’s what got you the job. It showed signs of creativity.”

I was going to say that I didn’t think you were supposed to make stuff up in a newspaper, but for once in my life, I kept my mouth shut.

Over the next nine years, I was a copy boy, a police reporter, a sportswriter, a city editor, the features editor and a feature writer. I had failed miserably in one job after another until there was nothing left for me to do but write a humor column.

When you get a column, you’re full of ideas (I was full of other stuff, too, and still am). But you quickly use them up. Then you sit there and wonder, “Now what?”

So you decide to emulate your favorite writers. In my case, they were the three B’s: Benchley, Buchwald and Bombeck.

Erma Bombeck was a genius. A lot of people thought she wrote only for women, especially housewives, but Erma wrote for anyone who ever had or was part of a family, which meant everyone.

Art Buchwald was the reason I became a writer. In high school I read his column in The Stamford Advocate and knew I wanted to write a humor column, too. Years after I began writing my column, I worked up the nerve to write Art a letter. To my great surprise and delight, he wrote back. I found that he was just as funny and nice as he was in his columns. We exchanged letters and phone calls over the last five years of his life.

In 2006, I was proud and happy to nominate Art for the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award, which Suzette Martinez Standring, then-president of the NSNC, presented to Art in a hospice in Washington, D.C. He ultimately left the hospice and lived far longer than anyone, including his doctors, thought he would. Nobody ever went out with more wit and class than Art Buchwald.

And Robert Benchley was, in my opinion, the funniest writer who ever lived. A lot of people hear the name and say, “Didn’t he write Jaws?” No, that was Peter Benchley, Robert’s grandson. Bob, as his legion of friends called him, flourished in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s and has continued to influence writers too humorous to mention.

In addition to being hilarious, the three B’s had one other very important thing in common: They didn’t believe in cruel or mean-spirited humor. I don’t, either. So I began to emulate them. It was hard, of course, because I could never live up to their standards, and still can’t. But they were my role models, and still are.

Gradually, I developed my own style. At the risk of plagiarizing Popeye, I am what I am. But I’m indebted to Robert Benchley, Art Buchwald and Erma Bombeck because they showed me the way, even if, in the school of humor, they are on the dean’s list and I am on double-secret probation.

Every columnist has his or her role models. It would be interesting to hear about which writers have influenced you.

And if you still doubt your ability to write a column, be inspired by this classic quote from Mr. Benchley: “It took me 15 years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”

— 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.

Some slob stepped on my tongue

steven_eskewAh, I just survived another New Year’s Eve without swilling down so much as a thimbleful of alcohol. As a devout Irishman, I’ve had my moments with booze, believe me — or at least believe my criminal record. I simply got tired of waking up every New Year’s Day feeling like some slob had just stepped on my tongue.

My swan song to alcoholic swill occurred nearly 30 years ago. Much of that toot remains a blur. I do recall “waking up” on that New Year’s Eve while staggering down an unfamiliar road in the midst of a blizzard. Had I lost my car again? Or had I sold the car earlier that night for drinking money? My wife was going to kill me. Oh, wait, she’d just divorced me. Whew!

Then, what to my wandering eyes should appear within the treacherous whiteout-weather but a neon sign bearing the legend Tiger Tom’s Tavern. Though I’d never heard of the place, my frozen brain immediately surmised somehow that it must be a biker bar. And most assuredly not the kind of biker bar frequented by my fellow bicyclists who were all fervent Barbra Streisand fans. The dozen Harleys parked in the snowy lot outside the bar must have been the clue that Hell’s Angels could be on the site. Who would drive Harleys in a blizzard? Who else?

I knew for a fact I’d be safer in the blizzard, but, bless my little Funny Girl heart, I needed a drink. Desperately. The wind practically blew me into the bar. The atmosphere inside the joint confirmed the worst: Heavy metal (music?) blared through a fog of smoke blown from the mouths of rough, tough people all wearing prison tattoos. And their husbands looked even tougher.

Being a stereotypical super nerd, I half expected someone to shoot me on sight. Oddly, it turned out that I was perceived as an exotic enigma. Inexplicably, the tattooed toughs seemed downright intrigued by me. All eyes followed me as I placed a quarter on a pool table. 

Then, during a five-minute nap, I felt a cue stick tap my butt. One of the tough mamas twice my age, built like a roll of barbed wire and looking like she was strong enough to have birthed all her kids while standing up, pointed to the quarter I’d put on the pool table.

“Yur up, Pablo. I’m Gloria. They call me Big Bad Glo. Rack ‘em!”

Pablo? I decided I could blame my doom on the Spanish Armada. If those sailors had not landed in Ireland and mixed with my ancestors, I, a black Irishman named Steve, wouldn’t look so dead-on Hispanic among all of the scary white faces.

Then, an epiphany of sorts sprang into my cognac-soaked noggin. I turned to the tattooed roll of barbed wire with the cue stick and instinctually began babbling with a heavy Spanish accent. Thank God the drunk, 60-something Big Bad Glo was charmed by weak young men with accents. Who’d a thunk it?

I decided Pablo was as good a name as any. Truthfully, I was too drunk and too nerve-racked to remember any other Hispanic names. Was Julio a Spanish name? Was Juan? Was Wayne?

“How deeed chu know my name?” I asked Big Bad Glo.

“Call it a lucky guess, muchacho,” came Glo’s reply in her gravelly voice.

Essentially, I became her best buddy for the night. Scary — but apparently quite safe. She actually shot dirty looks to anyone who even looked like they wanted to give me a bad time. Was she my new old lady? Nah. It wasn’t a romantic attraction, thank God. She wanted to mother me. Ahhh!

We bought each other pitchers of beer until the New Year’s countdown. Then, Big Bad Glo told a huge guy named Big Tiny Little to give her woozy buddy Pablito a lift to wherever I wanted to go.

On a Harley? Yup!

I had sobered up fast only to become unconscious most of the way home. Not from booze. From pure fright.

I came to just in time to show Big Tiny Little where to drop me off. I pushed my way inside my apartment door and passed out on the floor, hoping to dream of keeping company with a better class of people. Teetotalers.

And they say there’s no cure for alcoholism.

— 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, eskewtotherescue.com.

Ripping the headlines today

Paul_LanderThe news doesn’t need to be complicated and confusing; that’s what any new release from Microsoft is for.  And, as in the case with anything from Microsoft, to keep the news from worrying our pretty little heads over, remember something new and equally indecipherable will come out soon.

Really all you need to do is follow one simple rule: barely pay attention and jump to conclusions.  So, here are some headlines today and my first thoughts:

Krispy Kreme co-founder dies at 95 years old

In lieu of flowers send flour.

Happy 57th Birthday, Rapper Grand Master Flash

And, a shout out to your wife Grand Mrs. Hot Flash.

Sony brings back Blackberry after cyber attack

And, dial up.

Fox News commentator calls Obama a ‘skinny, ghetto crackhead’ on air

Except for the skinny part, it sounds like an endorsement for Mayor of Toronto.

Kendal Jenner rocks skimpy bikini in Dubai

How embarrassing for her father Bruce Jenner, who was wearing the same outfit.

New Year’s stampede kills 35 in Shanghai, China

Holy crap, and it’s not even their New Year.

‘Saved by the Bell’s’ Dustin Diamond arrested for using a switchblade in a bar fight

Ironically, given Dustin Diamond’s standup act, stabbing someone is closest he’s ever come to killing…

Hugh Hefner death report turns out to be Internet hoax

So, Hugh Hefner didn’t die, I guess thanks to the Viagra someone reported he’d been stiff for more than 4 hours…

Snow in Southern California

Looks like that was one helluva sneeze by Charlie Sheen.

New York police consider Chipotle boycott after clerk gives “hands up” gesture

Guys, if you want to really have an effect, then boycott Dunkin’ Donuts.

Chris Rock getting divorced

Look for his ex-wife’s new reality show, ‘Everybody Hates Chris… Except my Divorce Lawyer.’

Republican Rep. Steve Scalise said he didn’t know he was speaking in front of white supremacists and Klan members

Bringing new meaning to being ‘hoodwinked.’

— 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 standup material that’s been performed on Leno, Letterman, Conan, “Last Comic Standing,” etc. His humor pieces have appeared in The New Yorker, Santa Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. Now, on to Paul’s time commanding Special Forces in Kandahar…

Watching mom die

Garret MathewsYou smoke.

Oh, not a lot. Seven, maybe eight a day.

Mom was like that.

If necessary, you can go two or three hours between puffs. A movie. A dinner party. A Little League game.

Mom was like that.

You don’t smoke in the house, a nod to your spouse who quit cigarettes under surgeon’s orders after his heart attack.

Mom was like that.

You mostly light up outside. In the garden. On the porch. In the rocking chair beside the bird feeder.

Mom was like that.

You’re much too polite to smoke in the car, or around family members who don’t have the addiction. You tell people that, yes, even one cigarette is bad, but at least you’re not like those huddled wretches who fill their lungs inside smoking booths at airports and rail stations.

Mom was like that.

Betsy Mathews started smoking in 1944, her freshman year in college. She kept it up for 70 years until X-rays revealed two large, fast-growing tumors in her lungs.

She quit in the fall, but the doctor doubts it was discipline. More likely, he said, she inhaled one day and it felt like the devil breathing fire.

Death came two days after Christmas, six weeks after the diagnosis.

Mom was an active, vibrant person who ate the right foods and kept her weight down. Smoking-induced cancer stole her too soon from the grandchildren and the little great-grandbaby she loved so much.

Betsy Mathews didn’t smoke like a fiend.

Not a lot at all. Seven, maybe eight a day.

But they added up and now she’s dead.

When Mom still had enough strength to talk, I said I’d like to write about cigarettes and lung cancer.

Is there anything you’d like to share? I wanted to know.

She whispered, “Tell them not to be like me.”

— Garret Mathews

Garret Mathews is a retired metro columnist for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. In a 39-year career, he penned more than 6,500 columns on every subject from mail-order brides to Appalachian snake handlers. He can be reached at garretmath@gmail.com.

Heaven can wait

Janice WaldI told God a month before being cleared of breast cancer that Heaven could wait.

In October, I’d received news that I had an abnormal mammogram result. “I am not ready,” I repeatedly whispered, almost like a mantra, to anyone up there who might be available to listen. I chanted it to my late dad, grandpa, former mother-in-law and former uncle-in-law. (I don’t know that many dead people.)

I absolutely did not have time for cancer. I was about to become a world-famous blogger like… Come to think of it, I did not know any world-famous bloggers.

Suddenly, my recent past made sense. No wonder God had given me so many good parking spaces at work recently; he was about to give me the “Big C.” I tossed and turned after getting the dreaded notice that there might be an abnormality and that I had to return for more tests.  In my mind, the form letter was just a formality. I had already received a death sentence.

I decided to make plans one would make when writing their bucket list. First, I’d blow all my money. I saw that in a Queen Latifah movie once. In “Last Holiday” a dying woman decides to blow all her money on one last luxurious vacation. However, thanks to my wonderful husband, I’ve already traveled extensively.  The only item I was in the mood to spend the little nest egg my father left me on was Candy Crush Saga boosters. (I wondered if Mark Zuckerberg would get his share since I was playing on his site. It would actually have been fine with me since I think he’s a good guy.)

I figured dying people would binge eat since they wouldn’t be around to worry about calories. However, the only food I was craving as I fretted in the wee hours of the morning was nonfat Yoplait Yogurt, not exactly a chocolate cheesecake in the calorie department.

I started to wonder what I’d bury myself with if I were one of the ancient Egyptians who decked out the chambers that held their coffins with belongings they’d want in the afterlife. All I could think to take with me to the Great Beyond was my little dog Minnie, and she was still among the living. I heard some ancient Roman buried himself with his horse. (Was it Caligula? He sure loved his horse.)

Would that be fun for Minnie and me to go to the Great Beyond together or unspeakably cruel? Guilt might follow me to the Great Beyond. That wouldn’t be fun at all.

I decided I’d swear my husband to secrecy while at the same time telling everyone I knew in hopes of ascertaining some peace of mind from them.

The next morning my whole world had changed. My two “friends” definitely felt dramatically different from each other. Even decision making felt different. What song to listen to while getting ready for work was problematic. I was in the mood to listen to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” but there was a cancer patient in the song’s music video, so that choice was out. Which lotion should I use? I was in the mood for “Forever Sunshine.” Sunshine sounded happy, so that was okay, but Forever implied eternity, which I was definitely not ready for.

In the musical “Bye Bye Birdie,” Conrad Birdie sang that he had “lots of livin’ to do.” I have “lots of livin’ to do” and lots of blogging to do.

I was cleared of any cancer and given a clean bill of health earlier this month.  At the time, I was terrified.  Cancer is no laughing matter. Yet, in hindsight, I hope I will remember the weeks of uncertainty this way, with levity — and not with the panic I felt.

– Janice Wald

By night, Janice Wald is a happy blogger, wife, mother of three daughters and a dog owner. By day, she is a teacher passionate about medieval and ancient world history. She recently completed a master’s degree in education, curriculum and instruction. An avid writer, she is currently collaborating on a screenplay, loves blogging to the point of obsession and was nominated for the Liebster Award. You can read her blog here.

Easy-to-keep New Year’s resolutions

myron.kuklaI firmly believe I will be able to keep all of my New Year’s resolutions for 2015.

I think I’ll be successful this year because I have decided this time around to go with resolutions that will be easy to keep.

Face it, it’s dumb to make resolutions like, “I resolve to exercise hard everyday for two hours and eat nothing but carrot sticks and healthy salads all year until the fat comes melting off my body.”

I know from experience I’ll never keep a resolution like that. One, I don’t have the discipline to do it, and two, my back usually goes out in the first half hour of exercise and I’m done for a month or two.

This year my resolutions are realistic and attainable, and don’t require me to injure my back.

Here are my top 15 easy resolutions for 2015:

#1.  I will procrastinate all I want during the year and not feel guilty about it. I will call my procrastination,  “Weighing the alternatives.”

#2.  I resolve to stay away from diets, eat anything I want in 2015 without concern for calories, carbs or how much weight I gain.

#3.  I will only buy clothes that are several sizes too big for me and tell people during the year that I have been working out and losing weight.

#4.  I plan to create a very short list of personal improvement objectives that need to be accomplished in 2015 and then follow resolution #1.

#5.  I resolve to keep the television cable remote in my back pocket at all times, flip through the channels aimlessly and sometimes watch two sporting programs and a movie at the same time.

#6. When it is my turn to make dinner at home, I will buy take-out food and pass it off as something I created from watching the Food Channel.

#7.  I’m not sure what I want to put down as a resolution here, so I’m going to have to “weight the alternatives” and get back to you on this one.

#8.  For my wife, I promise to leave the seat up at night.

#9.  I will play as much as golf as I can during the year except on my wife’s birthday and that other day I can never remember.

#10.  I will have more fun during the year.

#11.  I shall finish these resolutions at some future date, once I have weighed all the alternatives.

— Myron J. Kukla

Myron Kukla is a professional journalist, writer and owner of the West Michigan-based marketing company WriteStuff.  Kukla is the author of two books of humor, Confessions of a Baby Boomer: Memories of Things I Haven’t Forgotten Yet and Guide to Surviving Life. He has also just published two ebooks on Amazon.com, Chomp and Something in the Blood.

Reflections of Erma