My daughter and I flew in from our separate cities to Miami last weekend to celebrate her birthday.
My first clue that I was going to be even less “South Beachish” than previously feared came when my cabdriver asked, “Are you here for music festival?”
One look at me should have been enough to indicate that, unless it was Captain and Tennille headlining, I was not here for the music festival.
“No, but what festival?” I asked casually while fighting a rising panic.
“Is Ultra! Most famous techno DJ festival in world!”
I don’t get out much, but as the mother of one person who has been a teen and another person who still is a teen, I know what techno music is. Let me do my on-paper imitation now: “Unsuh, unsuh, beep, beep, zip, zeeep, unsuh, zeep, unsuh, yeep.” But scream that really, really loudly. And scratch your fingernails against a chalkboard. Please also grab a dentist drill and just pulsate the on/off button. That, my friends, is what techno music sounds like to me.
At the hotel, the check-in person gingerly offered me a letter.
“We’re giving this to all our guests. You probably know it’s “Ultra” this weekend and noise ordinances are lifted in the city of Miami. The hotel can’t control the many DJ events occurring all around the hotel.” Wanting to be thought of as a good sport, I assured her that I knew the hotel could only control its own grounds. But I was praying that wasn’t really true.
My daughter didn’t arrive for a few hours, so I went up to the room. Could it be my imagination or was there also a gathering of drum circle instructors staying at the hotel? The walls of the room seemed to swell and retract on their own. Just like the blood vessels in my brain. I stepped out onto the small balcony. Big mistake. I thought about immediately self-reporting to Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator,” because I was staring onto a rooftop of a neighboring hotel that was having a roof-top afternoon dance party. Everyone appeared to be very young and very much in their underwear. I went back into the room and shut the curtains.
I called the front desk. I won’t bore you with the entire contents of the conversation but the words “mom, Midwest, birthday, migraine” and “quieter room” were used.
Props (look at me with the terms!) to the hotel for helping me move to an interior facing room. Oh this one still pulsed, too. But more gently, and the dentist drill could not be heard.
My daughter arrived and practically fell into the room.
“Oh Mom, I’m so sorry! It’s Ultra. I had no idea. Some friends told me that it was in Miami this weekend. They said, ‘Your poor mom.’”
Again, in the spirit of her birthday weekend, and wanting to rise to the (loud) occasion, I hugged her and assured her it would be fine. And it was.
I got to see women in their bathing suits and high heels having dinner at a nice restaurant. I got to see every color of pastel pork pie hat ever made. I got to hear what sounded like a remix of ACDC’s Thunderstruck, the national anthem, and the time I got the basement pipes rotored.
You might say it was an ultra unusual weekend.
— Lucia Paul
Lucia Paul’s humor writing includes an award-winning sitcom script and essays that have appeared in numerous publications. Her parody, 50 Shades of Flannel, earned a cult following, and was an Entertainment Weekly online Editor’s Pick in 2012. She has been a regular humor contributor to MORE magazine’s online edition, writing on topics ranging from the financial crisis to parenting teens. She is a contributor to two Not Your Mother’s Book titles: NYMB…on Home Improvement (2013) and NYMB …on Moms (June 2014). She blogs at dysfunctionalscrapbooking.blogspot.com.
I cringe at the thought of my first (and only) date with Mr. Handsome. I had a HUGE crush on him and his chiseled features for years. He was several years older, so naturally, I wanted to wear something special. That was my first mistake.
I was going to pull out all the stops. I was going to WOW him…which I’m pretty sure I did, just not in the way I had hoped.
I wore black satin puffy gauchos with gold flecks that caught the light in such a way it could blind you, like the sun, if you stared directly at it. To complete the look, I wore the matching fitted jacket because nothing says sexy better than looking half matador/half court jester. The cherry on the icing was the pair of shoulder pads that made me resemble an NFL linebacker. The only thing wider was my hair. I thought I looked, like totally, cool. I shudder at the memory.
Even though he kissed me at the end of our date (actually, it was more like a hit and run), he never called again. Was I just too young or did the fact I had broader shoulders scare him away? I will never know.
When I look back on my years in high school, there were those girls who didn’t succumb to the latest fashion trend. They had long, smooth, shiny hair and wore simple body-skimming wrap dresses with nary a shoulder pad in site. They had style and classic beauty and wouldn’t have been caught dead in a pair of jodhpurs.
I, on the other hand, would wear the latest fad no matter how big, puffy, neon, shiny or unflattering. The glitzier the better. My hair was thick, kinky and curly, and wouldn’t know a modicum of control until decades later, when women would start to use nuclear strength varnish to tame their mane. I was under the false impression that once I got rid of the braces and the training bra I was home free. What did I know?! Admittedly, it was not my best look.
You think I would have learned something from the many fashion mistakes of my teen years. But, sadly not. Decades would pass before I would even have an inkling that some of my choices in clothes were less than awesome.
In fact, there was a little black velvet number with a fuchsia ruffle that Carmen Miranda would have killed for, that I just had to have for my engagement party. Did I mention the giant flower the size of a Thanksgiving turkey flanking my hip? Oh yes, I was a show-stopper that night — probably a traffic stopper, too. Blame it on youth.
It’s good to know I have learned a thing or two over the years. I no longer wear anything puffy or with shoulder pads or that could double as reflective safety apparel. According to my teenage daughter, I play it too safe. I say, better safe than sorry. Been there, worn that — I have the photos to prove it.
— Linda Wolff
Linda Wolff writes the blog Carpool Goddess where she shares her adventures from carpool to empty nest. She no longer drives carpool, but that’s our little secret. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Yahoo! Shine, Scary Mommy, Better After 50, Generation Fabulous and others. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
1. I woke up this morning.
2. I arrived at work safely and only almost hit two cars on the way, but they deserved it.
3. I have a check to deposit in the bank meaning my banker will love me again and lift the block on my account.
4. I had an idea for a great story.
5. No laxative needed today. Pooped au natural.
6. My one knee-high stocking is still at knee level.
7. My one thigh-high orthopedic stocking is at knee level and has not rolled down to the ankle and then launched itself at anyone, anything, or any animal killing or wounding them in the process.
8. I survived yesterday.
9. I didn’t have to wear clothes when I went to the kitchen this morning because no one else was home.
10. Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is less than one month away.
Wanda is the author of Y-Mee’s A B C Book of Emotions, a contributor to Bare Elements with a novella about Southern Women, co-author with Clay Mercer ofThe Education of Joe Willy, and the co-author with another EBWW alumni Jody Worsham of the soon to be released Kin We Aren’t Related To whose idea was conceived at the 2012 EBWW. (For those of you who want to know, this is the Mabel & MayBelle book. Look for it soon in paperback and Kindle). She writes from her hurricane ravaged home located on the Florida Panhandle where huge quantities of margaritas are consumed.
I have a special place in my heart for the Erma Bombeck conference. This was really the place where I got my humor writing start. Well, actually, sitting at my desk in front of my computer was where I got my start, but the Erma conference was the place where I found the courage to turn my passion for writing into a career.
I started writing my humor column for one local newspaper back in 2001, and five years later, decided that I wanted to be the next Erma Bombeck. Where better to learn how to do that than at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop? I remember being incredibly nervous and in awe of the other writers who seemed like they were so much further along in their journey than I was. On the first night, I noticed a syndicated Canadian columnist surrounded by attendees. I thought, “Gee, if I can get to know him, maybe he can show me the ropes and help me achieve my dream.” So I introduced myself and he invited me to sit next to him at dinner.
Being the cool New Jersey girl that I am, I tried to entertain him with funny stories, and in the process, accidentally knocked an entire glass of wine into his lap.
Then I tried to wipe it off.
Although this was not the impression I was looking to make, it was AN impression, and not one I thought he would forget too quickly. Being a humor writer, though, he could see the funny in the situation and invited me to sit with him at dinner again the next night.
Dinner with Tracy: Take 2
We made it through almost the entire meal without incident. And then while we were having dessert, he made a joke, and I laughed. Unfortunately it was while I had a large wad of partially chewed strawberry cheesecake in my mouth. Did you know that when you laugh with strawberry cheesecake in your mouth, it sprays out in a million little tiny yellow and red spots all over whatever or whoever is directly in front of you?
Now you know.
My dinner companion assured me that he would not hold my dual dinner faux pas against me and would most likely make sure to wear a raincoat for all future meals together.
I actually learned two important lessons from that experience.
The first is an equation that has served me well throughout my career. It goes, Tragedy+Time=Comedy. As bad as something seems at the time, in the hands of a great writer it can become excellent fodder for a humor column.
The second thing I learned was that humor writers, especially those who attend the Erma Bombeck conference, are an incredibly supportive community of people who are just as thrilled for your success as they are for their own. Many of the people I met at my first conference are my biggest supporters, my most trusted editors and some of my closest friends. This is not to say that given the chance they wouldn’t try to bump me off and take over my newspapers contracts, or run away with my Erma Bombeck Writing Competition award, but I know that they would do that in the most loving and supportive way.
Many humor writers today would be surprised to know that Erma Bombeck was almost 38 when she started writing her humor column for the Dayton Journal Herald. By today’s work standards, that is practically old enough to retire to a senior community called “Journey’s End” in Florida and start stealing dinner rolls at the Early Bird Special. Like Erma, I was also in my 30s when I started writing my column. And, also like Erma, my column grew out of the experience of becoming a mother. It was not something I could have written in my 20s. I actually don’t even think I really hit my writing stride until my 40s. With age, they say comes wisdom…but also, sometimes, children. So, you know, that kind of blows that whole wisdom theory. But with children come hemorrhoids. And with children and hemorrhoids come a humor column.
At my first conference, Dave Barry was the keynote speaker and he was asked the question: “How do you come up with your material?” Dave responded, “You got kids. You got a dog? You got a column.” Since I was in awe of Dave Barry and his success, I immediately went home, popped out a few kids and got a dog and I have been successful ever since. Eventually, of course, the kids leave home and the dog dies, so it’s good to have a couple more tricks up your humor sleeve…
or at least get another dog.
— Tracy Beckerman
Tracy Beckerman, who’s on the faculty at the 2014 EBWW, writes the syndicated humor column and blog, “Lost in Suburbia,” which is carried by more than 400 newspapers in 25 states and on 250 websites to approximately 10 million readers. She’s also the author of Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir and Rebel Without a Minivan: Observations on Life in the ‘Burbs. In 2014, she was the global humor winner in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition sponsored by the Washington-Centerville Public Library in Centerville, Ohio.
We are a family of criers. Weepers, sobbers, hanky twisting bawlers. We have sniffled through Mother’s Day TV commercials, teared up reading a particularly sentimental birthday card — and that’s in the greeting card section in Walgreens — and as tiny children, we wailed over the death of Bambi’s mom, but then, who wouldn’t?
It’s a given that you will hear the wail of Walter women crying at weddings — lots and lots of weddings — including our own, our friends, our relatives, virtual strangers and the random wedding we catch on television. We also cry at sad books, happy endings, at least one news story a day and pretty much everything in between. My truck-driving daddy choked up at every reading he did at his daughter’s weddings, at the sight of each new grandchild and of course, when Johnny Cash died.
One night my mother and two youngest sisters and I were wrapped in blankets in the den watching an old black-and-white movie. I wish I could remember what movie it was so that I could revisit it now that they have invented Netflix but I can’t, so I’ll never know what it was. I’m pretty sure Bette Davis or Claudette Colbert or maybe even Loretta Young was in it — but unless Jane or Sarah can conjure up the name, it will be lost for all eternity. We turned off the TV and sat in the darkness wiping our tears and blowing our noses in a solemn act of sympathy for old Bette or Claudette or Loretta as she slipped into the next world.
My dad, just returning from a couple of days on the road, popped his head around the doorway. Seeing his wife and three youngest daughters sobbing amidst a sea of used Kleenexes he immediately looked alarmed and said, “Oh my God! What happened?” “Oh, Dad! It was the saaaadest movie!” Sarah piped up from under her quilt. “It was a movie? I thought somebody died!” he replied. “Yeah Dad, she died in the end! It was sooooo saaad!” That was all he needed to go in search for a beer in the back of the fridge.
There are obvious circumstances where it makes sense to cry. When a tiny child sings “Silent Night” at the Christmas Eve service at church. At really truly sad things. During every single episode of Parenthood. And of course, when anyone else does.
But there are certain times when you shouldn’t cry. Like at job interviews. Or on your second date with someone. And if you must weep at work, for God’s sake, do it out in your car with the rest of us. Do not cry in the fitting room at Nordstrom no matter how rotund you might look in the 46th dress you’ve tried on for your old college roommate’s third wedding where your ex will probably show up with his much younger and hotter second wife. That’s a situation that calls for getting drunk, not blubbering all over a frock you clearly cannot afford.
I’ve always admired the women who can shed a tear or two and, with a quick swipe of powder and lipstick, revert back to their formerly unchoked-up and composed self. I, on the other hand, look as though I’ve been a victim of a horrible and sudden onslaught of nuclear fallout. Swollen, reddened eyes, a nose that becomes both shiny and bright pink and lips enlarged to rival Goldie Hawn’s at the Oscars. And that’s just when I saw a particularly poignant Hallmark commercial.
There is not much I can do to quell the tide of tears once they make an appearance. I’ve tried thinking happy thoughts, doing the double fan effect with my hands and channeling my own inner unflappable Joan Crawford. No go. Once the tears start, I’m done. So if we ever get together for coffee? Or a movie? Or greeting card shopping? Please bring tissues. Your sleeve will thank you.
— Ronnie Walter
Ronnie Walter is an illustrator, writer and self-professed smart aleck. Over the past 20 years she has licensed her artwork and writing onto a wide variety of gift and stationery products and she’s the author of License to Draw — How I built a fun career in Art Licensing and you can too! As Ronnie says, “nobody has more fun at work than me!” She is currently having a great time working on a collection of humor essays to be published in fall 2014. You can find her in the little house by the water she shares with her husband Jim and Larry (the best shelter dog ever) hard at work writing, drawing or blogging on her website, www.ronniewalter.com.
POV. Tags. Hooks. Dark moments. Arcs.
At a conference I recently attended, these terms were tossed into the room, with everyone in attendance taking copious notes, asking questions and adding their opinions. Now, if you’re not a writer, these expressions may mean nothing to you.
Your world may consist of such terms as: dibble stick, compost, annuals, stratification. That is, if you’re into landscaping and gardening.
Or perhaps you’re familiar with Brazilian Wax, French Tip and Egyptian Threading. And no, these applications do not apply to a foreign translator, but to your neighborhood cosmetologist.
Every profession and every hobby has its own lingo, complete with inside jokes and greetings that only those in the know will understand.
But there is one universal expression, one common phrase that everyone gets, no matter what type of conference they are attending. And that is “meet me in the bar.”
Let’s face it, a lot of great information is garnered in the workshops, taking notes and watching PowerPoint presentations. But some of the real knowledge and connections are made coming to and from the lecture halls, in the elevators and in the lobby.
How many of us have had that serendipitous moment when we find ourself in the elevator with the editor (editor interchangeable with person of power in your chosen field) you’ve been dying to meet forever? And in casual conversation she mentions she’s looking for a story about a middle-aged woman having an affair with the ghost of her first boyfriend. You just happen to have such a story. And the guts to tell her.
In that short ride to the lobby, you see yourself years from now on The New York Times’ bestseller list. Or walking the red carpet at a movie premier staring Diane Keaton.
Or perhaps the elevator dings before you open your mouth.
In any event, you see my point.
Don’t get me wrong. When I pay hard earned money to attend a conference, I want to come away feeling as if I’ve learned something new.
But I usually get just as much from the networking which takes place between the sipping of cocktails, the crunching on nuts and the swapping of business cards. I love all the schmoozing.
But that’s just my POV — point of view.
— Janie Emaus
Janie Emaus believes that when the world is falling apart, we’re just one laugh away from putting it together again. She is the author of the time travel romance, Before the After, and the young adult novel, Mercury in Retro Love. She has an essay in the best-selling humor anthology, You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth and is proud have been named a 2013 BlogHer Voice of the Year. To read more of Janie’s humor, you can find her every week In The Powder Room. To learn more about her crazy life, visit her website www.JanieEmaus.com.
Can you have an infatuation with an entire country? Not its people really, because I have only a slight acquaintance with someone from this place. I mean the country itself.
Ever since I was in middle school I’ve had a love affair with Russia. I know. It’s not really popular right now. I was keeping this on the down low.
In high school I took Mrs. Berryman’s Russian history class, and that really cemented the relationship. She even brought borscht to school for us, and the sour cream for on top.
She was a sort of scatterbrained type, Mrs. Berryman. She had my older brother Steve in a different history class, and there’s a story about how he and his best friend Jack covered the outside of a quarter with heavy pencil and then convinced her to roll it over her face several times as some sort of experiment.
Anyway, I loved that class. It was full of seniors, and I was a junior so that made it even more attractive. And trust me, in the whole realm of my high school experience, I have to grab the good parts where I can.
I’ve always been smitten with the Nicholas and Alexandra love story. You know those royals don’t always marry for love, and it appears that those two did. Now, granted their marriage didn’t have the best outcome, but I’m sure there were some great times before the execution. Take one look at those Faberge eggs and tell me that isn’t romantic.
I love Peter and the Wolf. I love Tolstoy, Turgenev and Dostoyevsky. Don’t even get me started on “The Nutcracker.” And the onion domes, for God’s sake, some of them are covered in gold.
You have Catherine the Great, whose prowess with men I can’t even get into here. Then there’s the whole vodka thing. I just feel that with all these strengths, Russia is clearly a cultural powerhouse, at least by historical standards, not to mention my standards.
The Romanovs really are what binds me to this great love affair, though.
There’s the tragic love story and then all the beautiful kids they had together with those fancy names. Then there’s the hemophilia and the Rasputin saga. Then the subsequent intrigue and murder of Rasputin. Then the whole arrest and failure of Nicholas to really pull himself together causing the downfall of an entire nation. It’s like he wanted to make sure Alexandra got a decent foot rub before he read the paperwork on the Bolsheviks.
Then you have the execution of the entire family while the women were weighed down by the jewels sewn into their underwear. This story comes full circle when they discovered the remains of most of the family in the early 1990s, and the remains of the final two missing children were identified 2008. You know the sad part here is that I know all this by heart. Ask me a question about President Grant and I guarantee you I know next to nothing.
I plan to bring this whole love affair into play when I have grandchildren. I shall be called Babushka.
— Connie Berry
Connie Berry grew up reading and loving Erma Bombeck. She is former editor of The Catholic Sun newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and a new resident of Martha’s Vineyard where she is copy editor for the Vineyard Gazette. She lives on the island with her husband and youngest son. Her two older children read her blog, thejoblessgoddess.
Iʼve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. A stand-up comic. Durn tootinʼ. And, since I served as my high schoolʼs class clown, Iʼve already landed a booking. Iʼve agreed to perform a comic monologue for our 50-year class reunion. I canʼt wait. Since Iʼm a New Yorker and the high school I attended is in Grand Island, Neb., that performance can function as a sort of out-of-town tryout.
Can a baby boomer be a late bloomer in showbiz? Nothingʼs impossible. Iʼve set a goal: If I donʼt become a comic on the stand-up circuit by age 73, then Iʼll … Iʼll keep right on trying until I do, by gum. Why was I ever a businessman anyway? I should have entered showbiz years ago. Itʼs in my blood. Every corpuscle.
Inspired by my Auntie Chartreuse who launched her stand-up career when she was over 70, I already know all the hoops Iʼll have to hop. Of course, I must keep in mind that Auntie Chartreuse had a secret ingredient: talent. Iʼll have to work on that. A lot. Yep, talent could come in mighty handy indeed.
For those laughing “at” me and not “with” me, may I point out that, in our advancing years, baby boomers consistently epitomize an admirable energy and enthusiasm for undertaking new challenges? The only rocking chairs that interest most of us are the chairs we sit in at rock concerts.
Surprisingly, my children and grandchildren actually support my goal for a career in comedy. (But, of course, theyʼre in the will. So far.). Some detractors call my aspiration a pipe dream, but my grandma always said to dream big and to ignore dream stompers, adding: “Reaching the dream itself is great but reaching for the dream is whatʼs really great.” Grandma began a successful nightclub business after she turned 65. After 20 years, she “retired” to new challenges. Like painting, writing poetry and learning to swim.
Age is indeed just a number and the Fountain of Youth lives within each of us. Human beings donʼt simply grow old; we become old by not growing. We must dare to develop and cultivate goals. Itʼs never too late to change the direction of oneʼs life. End of sermon.
With Grandma and Auntie Chartreuse as role models, Iʼve known for a long time that life doesnʼt stop when one turns 60. Quite the contrary. Itʼs a renaissance. Who the heck isn’t aging? Well, thereʼs that group pushing up the proverbial daisies. Theyʼre not aging a minute. I LOVE aging and when I look in the mirror, I absolutely do not see a 68-year-old man. (Actually, I see a 20-year-old Native American woman. But I digress.).
I must confess, though, that nowadays when I drop something on the floor and squat down to pick it up, I do look around while I’m down there to see if thereʼs anything else I can grab just to save myself another squat.
But nothing will stop me. I expect to revel in a career as a comic for decades. However, is stand-up the sum and substance of my bucket list? No way. Iʼve said repeatedly that the No. 1 item on my bucket list is to be shot to death by a jealous husband at age 106.
— 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.