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Does this make me look fat?

Avi Steinfeld“You don’t understand.”

I sat there expressionless. My wife’s probably right. I don’t have a clue. All I know is that I am tired and cranky. Harried and hungry. I need to use the bathroom. Badly. The seat of my pants is beginning to stick to the teak wood bench that is supporting my weary frame and the 14 gift shop bags alongside it. I imagine the plastic sign taped on to the bench as I get up will be saying, “Wet Pant.”

“This black dress with the gold metallic trim along the hem matches the Michael Kors shoes I have at home so much better.”

I certainly am seeing stars. This trip to the mall was a big mistake. My stomach and wallet are simultaneously becoming smaller. The man behind the counter of the Ann Taylor store gives me that “I know what you’re going through” look.

I decide to get a saleswoman involved. There’s no way I’m going to get stuck making the decision. I still want dinner.

“Excuse me, perhaps you can help us out.”

The help “us” is really help “me.”

There must be some reason women ask their husbands to come along shopping with them. Is it the free time that they can spend together? It’s kind of difficult talking to a dressing room curtain. And by the way, is there some reason why they can’t make the doors to these rooms extend to below my knees? Does everyone need to see my tubby thighs? They give you a number card equivalent to the total amount of items that you bring in. They called the tools and hardware department when my wife came in saying they needed to get an address plaque for her. When I entered with my clothes to try on one time, the surly employee smirked and I heard her mutter to her colleague, “That’s never going to fit him. He should try a tablecloth.” I responded, “Keep on counting those hangers, Madam; you might get promoted to the accounting department one day.”

Why do the clothes look so much better on the mannequin than on me? The ones without the heads are not very appealing. Do you think it’s cheaper? I guess some haunted molding company has a bunch of craniums lined up in his warehouse.

I believe that many arguments can be avoided by not accompanying one’s wife shopping. I mean does she really want me to say how I think she looks? Whatever you say, you’re doomed.

“You look great, honey!”

“Clam it, Avi. We’re not going for another hour.”

Or when she says, “This dress makes me look so fat.”

“You’re right, it does make you look … I mean tight-fitted apparel is very in style nowadays.

And when you finally pay for all the items and max out all of your credit cards, she always asks the same question in that familiar tone of voice, “Why did I bother bringing you with me?”

Perhaps the man behind the counter knows.

— Avi Steinfeld

Avi Steinfeld, a Chicago native, is a freelance humor writer with a master’s degree in school psychology. If you want a good  laugh, reach out to him at avrahamsteinfeld@gmail.com.

Hey, Facebook
Yes, I’m talking to you 2

Paul_Lander1. Hey, Facebook, finally, finally you said I might know someone and I do. I don’t like them, but I actually know them. Congratulations.

2. Hey, Facebook, thanks for thinking I might be friends with Carly Simon. I bet you think that song is about me. Don’t you. Don’t you?

3. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the Jaguar ads. Your faith in my ability to afford one, although misguided, warms my heart.

4. Hey, Facebook, I am not going to redo my yard with drought-friendly plants — I rent!

5. Hey, Facebook, I do not believe that there is a simple way to lose belly fat.

6. Hey, Facebook, I don’t give a sh** about ‘Constipation Clinical Trials.’

7. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the ‘Learn to flip houses’ ads, but I’m thinking, for most of us, a more productive ad would be ‘Learn to flip burgers.’

8. Hey, Facebook algorithm department, I put up a few Caetlyn Jenner posts and I get ads for hormone replacement. Well played.

9. Hey, Facebook, stop asking me if I’m friends with Joey Fatone. Even Justin Timberlake won’t admit to that, why should I?

10. Hey, Facebook, this suggested ad includes you: ‘Toxic Relationships: How To Recognize And Handle Them.’

11. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the reminders to events I’m not going to, by people I do not know, in places I’ve never heard of.

— 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 stand-up material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in Huff Post Comedy, McSweeney’s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month” in April.

Top 10 things every first-time parent should remember

First-time parents go through a slew of emotions when their first child is born.Regina Due

They feel excitement and a surge of happiness; a sense of hope and clarity about their love towards this child. There are, however other, more anxiety-inducing emotions — the fear of not understanding the needs of the child and anxiousness to be the best parents they can be.

The media often paints a distorted picture of parenting, compelling dads — and mums even more — to be super parents. With this in mind, we have come up with the top 10 things every first-time parent should remember — from safety tips to some reassuring points.

1. Spoiling your child. Unlike what you may have heard, you cannot spoil a child with love. You do so when you give the child a substitute for your attention. It is important to love your child and to show this love, so he will know that there is someone in this world who loves him unconditionally. Moreover, you should not let your child cry for too long. Crying is your baby’s last resort at trying to communicate with you about a discomfort and he should not learn to self-soothe. Responding to his needs will give the child a sense of security that will serve him the rest of his life.

2. Advice. You are not an incompetent parent if you ask for advice. Choose someone you can trust and confide any issues you are facing.

3. Hygiene. Your child’s immune system will get stronger with time but until then, make sure anyone who cradles the child washes their hands and that your child lives in a clean environment.

4. Routine. As baffling as his 2 a.m. wailing might be, you will figure out what his cries mean. More than that, you will ease into a routine in time.

5. Bonding. The physical closeness for a newborn is crucial as it helps create an emotional connection. Try skin-to-skin bonding and make sure you keep your newborn close during the first few days.

6. Safety. Never underestimate how your child can get hurt. Cradle the neck and avoid bouncing or shaking when your child is still a newborn. When he starts to roam around the house, take precautions.

7. Development. Refrain from comparing your child to another because every child develops at his or her natural pace.

8. Nutrition. Obesity will be our children’s biggest issue, so make sure you provide appropriate and the healthiest foods for every stage of his development.

9. Playtime. Incorporate playtime everyday and expose your child to nature. With so many indoor distractions — from televisions to gadgets — it is easy to forget giving your child the chance to interact and play outside.

10. Personal time. Loving your child means being a happy parent. Make time for yourself by doing something you love and go on date nights to reconnect with your spouse. When you are with your baby, wrap him up in a sling and go for a relaxing walk. It is essential for you to get out of the house.

— Regina Due

A parenting writer, Regina Due empowers women through her writing and parenting tips.

All pumped up

Jerry ZezimaI am not much of a couch potato, not only because my wife won’t let me eat potatoes on the couch while watching TV, but because I prefer to drink beer in the lounge chair.

But I am definitely a pump potato. That’s because I am hooked on a channel called Gas Station TV.

I discovered it recently when I went to the gas station and was transfixed by the TVs in the new pumps.

“If I could fit my lounge chair in the car, I’d drive it over here so I could sit in Lane 1 and watch TV all day,” I told Bree, the nice young man at the register.

“There’s only one channel,” he said, “but there’s a lot on it.”

“I know,” I replied. “I just watched the weather forecast — it’s supposed to rain — and I saw a car commercial, which was appropriate. The last time I was here, I watched the entertainment news and the sports update. A guy waiting to get to the pump must have thought I was taking too long because he honked his horn at me.”

The next time I needed gas, I took my own Nielsen ratings by polling viewers.

“I actually do watch TV while I’m pumping gas,” said Mike. “I like the weather, even though I’m outside and I already know what it’s doing.”

“Do you watch TV at home?” I asked.

“Not much,” Mike said. “But I like comedies. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is my favorite.”

“If a sitcom was on TV at the gas station, would you watch it?” I inquired.

“It might take a while,” Mike said, “but my car has a big tank, so maybe I could see the whole show.”

Melanie said she watches the weather.

“I like the news, too,” she added. “It’s nice to know what’s going on in the world. I just saw a report on gas prices.”

This piqued my interest so much that I decided to talk with Violet Ivezaj, vice president of business operations for Gas Station TV, which is headquartered in Detroit. I thought of driving there from my home on Long Island, New York, but I would have used too much gas, so I called her.

“You could have watched a lot of TV on the way out,” said Violet, adding that Gas Station TV started in 2006 at five gas stations in Texas and is now in more than 3,000 stations across the country.

When I told Violet about my ratings poll, she said, “I’m glad people like us. We offer a lot of programming, like ESPN, AccuWeather, CNN and Bloomberg. We’re driven to make pumping gas a good experience.”

“Driven?” I replied. “Nice one.”

“Thank you,” Violet said. “We want to have a positive impact.”

“I don’t think I’d use the word ‘impact’ when talking about cars,” I noted.

“Oops,” she said. “Let me put it this way: Millions of people are all pumped up over us.”

“They must be tankful for Gas Station TV,” I offered.

“Tankful?” Violet replied. “Nice one.”

“Thank you,” I said, adding that I have noticed that GSTV also has advertising for the products sold at gas stations, such as snacks and soda.

“We not only want to be entertaining and informative,” Violet said, “but we want customers to buy merchandise from our clients.”

“Have you ever been on Gas Station TV?” I asked.

“Not yet,” said Violet. “My husband and children think I should be.”

“Maybe you should get an agent,” I suggested.

“You could be on,” Violet said.

“That’s a great idea,” I responded. “If Gas Station TV starts a talk show, I could be the host. I can just imagine the promo: ‘Watch Jerry and get gas.’ ”

— 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 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.

Hysteria at haunted farm

Sharon L. CookI’ve never given much thought to seasonal haunted farms, although it’s something I would have loved as a kid. Back then, “horror” consisted of scary movies such as The Fly and The Blob. Because the special effects were primitive, we never saw the entire monster. What we saw was a woman, up close and screaming while a furry tentacle terrorized her.

Thus when I volunteered to accompany a church youth group to Connors Haunted Farm on a Friday night, I didn’t intend to participate. I envisioned eating cider donuts while the young people tramped through the cornfields. In fact, I told the Rev. Stephen, the group’s leader, that I’d recently had spinal surgery. No way could I engage in Zombie Paintball: diving into bushes and crawling through mud while being pelted from all sides.

Likewise the Hysteria Haunted Farm was out of the question. The last scary movie I saw was The Exorcist. It took me forever to get over it. I’ll admit I’ve become a sissy. Goosebumps is now my speed.

It’s too bad I didn’t research Connors Farm’s website beforehand. I would have discovered the Haunted Farm is “not for the faint of heart,” and that participants would tramp through an “authentic 17th century burial ground.” Had I read the back of the ticket, I’d learn that claustrophobics (and pregnant women) were warned not to enter.

Yet tickets had been purchased in advance, and they were not cheap. And after all, I had agreed to chaperone, along with Peter, the church sexton, and Joe, father of the teenage Sophia. I would look like a poor sport if I didn’t participate.

The farm’s haunted attractions are popular. We waited in a long line, our toes and fingers frozen by the chill autumn air. Those who’d paid extra stood in a VIP line and were whisked aboard. We church people persevered: The meek shall inherit the earth, or failing that, a seat on the Zombie Paintball truck.

Once seated, I relaxed when I learned I would be shooting at the zombies and not vice versa. It was fun pelting them as they popped up in the dark woods. I discovered I have good aim. The attraction was more fun than scary. I’d been worrying for nothing. How frightening could the Haunted Farm be?

Plenty!

After waiting in line, our group stepped inside the entrance to Hysteria’s Haunted Farm. Immediately we were plunged into a nightmare involving sound, strobe lights and a kaleidoscope effect. Crossing a rickety wooden bridge, I clutched the rope railing, fearing I’d fall overboard any minute. I couldn’t trust my distorted senses enough to proceed. I held onto the sleeve of teenage Demetri’s sweatshirt. “Don’t leave me!” I yelled above the roaring noise.

Somehow we made it over the bridge, only to be confronted by a bafflingly bizarre room. It was composed entirely of black-and-white checks. Inside was a Spiderman character, wearing a black-and-white checkered body suit. Flashing strobe lights made him appear to be everywhere: above and below us. “He’s in my head!” someone yelled.

What a relief to finally see Peter waiting at the exit. I stepped into the night air, exhaled and said, “Thank God that’s over.”

Immediately a freakish clown appeared at my side. “It’s only just begun,” he cackled, sounding like Vincent Price in The Fly. Unbeknownst to me, he was right. The Haunted Farm was a 40-minute attraction. More horror awaited, including a dank, smelly, cobwebby cellar, where grotesque creatures materialized from the mist.

“Why are they picking on me?” I wailed at one point.

“Because you’re old,” one of the kids said. “They know you’ll scream.”

And scream I did, so much that I was hoarse the following day. Yet in spite of my ordeal, I felt proud to have survived Hysteria’s Haunted Farm. In fact, I encourage other seniors to make the pilgrimage to Danvers. I guarantee it will sharpen — and shake up — your senses. Failing that, there’s always the cider donuts.

— Sharon L. Cook

Sharon L. Cook is author of A Nose for Hanky Panky A Deadly Christmas Carol and the upcoming Laugh ‘til You Die. She writes a humor column for the Salem News. In 2007, she received an honorable mention in the global human interest category of the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

How I came alive

Joty_T_AllisonCivil rights leader Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Everyone I have encountered over my life has told me I was chosen for something great.

Growing up, I battled with what that “something” was. As a child, I spent most of my time organizing rallies in my community and regularly participating in a local radio show that focused on youth empowerment.

As my community involvement continued, I dedicated my life to serving others. In retrospect, what I actually was doing was running from a dark past I had never confronted. At an early age, an older cousin exposed me to sex. Not only did he allow me to watch him have sex with females, he also began forcing me to have sex with him. I was eager for his validation, and I consented. As this dark story unfolded before me, I started desiring him far more than I should.

This infatuation turned into immense hatred after one day he defamed me in the presence of some of my cousins and friends. I felt betrayed by the only male who had ever seemed to care for me. I grew up avoiding thinking about this situation because I had no one to turn to, no one to talk to. Community activism is what I turned to as a way to escape this horrible situation. I feared that if anyone had ever found out about what he did to me, they would never believe me. And to be honest, I did not want anything to happen to him.

My silence began to eat up my insides like flesh-eating bacteria. As I grew older, I had to finally deal with this horrible past.

By doing so, I found out what made me come alive. I found out that there are many other African American young men who have suffered from molestation. Many of them kept silent about it for the same reasons I did.

I came alive when I decided not to hide this story and to commit myself to helping others escape from the same or similar situations. For a long time, I feared talking about this, but by doing so, I have now mentored hundreds of young men making important decisions in their lives.

My question to you, “What will make you come alive?” If you have not answered that question yet, I challenge you to find out. I challenge you to be fearless and zealous.

By answering this question, you will one day help save someone’s life or make a change in the world.

Just as I have come alive, so can you.

— Joty T. Allison

Joty T. Allison, a senior sociology major at Morehouse College, is a motivational speaker and the author of the upcoming book, Strengthen My Sight: Escaping Your Own Prison.

Ruffling my feathers
or why I resent being ‘hag-holed’

Helen ReeseIt wasn’t until I finished writing my novel Project Ex that I realized I had created a protagonist who was somewhat of an anomaly in the world of genre fiction.

Although 50-year-old psychotherapist Lydia Birnbaum’s romantic misadventures make her seem like a “chick” at times, she’s clearly no “chick” by genre standards. On the contrary, because of Lydia’s “advanced age,” Project Ex falls into a category of fiction called “matron literature.”

But wait, it gets worse.

Other common names for novels featuring female protagonists in their late 30s through 40s, 50s and beyond include “hen lit,” “granny lit” and — deep, cleansing breath — “hag lit.”

On the flipside of this labeling “system,” novels with male protagonists — of any age — have their own category. It’s called “fiction.”

I’ve attended a number of writers’ conferences and have discussed, brainstormed and continue to research how to navigate the rough waters of the publishing world. One thing I’ve learned is that figuring out which genre my novel fits into is very important indeed. I’ve also discovered that if I don’t define Project Ex by genre or sub-genre, there are plenty of people who will be more than happy to do it for me. And so, although there’s a part of me that wants to resist having it pigeonholed — or should I say, “hen-holed,” “granny-holed” or even “hag-holed” — into a genre whose very name sets my teeth on edge, it seems next to impossible to prevent that from happening.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Lydia Birnbaum would be horrified to hear herself described as a “hen,” let alone a “hag.” Having created her and understanding how vulnerable and sensitive she is, I feel an obligation to try and rescue her from being associated with the barnyard creature whose sad fate all too often is to end up on a dinner plate, not to mention the crone who tempted Sleeping Beauty with the luscious but deadly apple that put her to sleep for a hundred years.

Since this seems to be a dilemma that applies specifically to women’s fiction, isn’t it time for us to wake up, take charge and (if categorize we must), create new genres and sub-genres that more accurately and less pejoratively define us and our work?

— Helen Reese

Helen Reese recently published her debut novel, Project Ex. She’s also a contributor to Listen to Your Mother, a collection of essays released last spring that highlights motherhood’s joys and challenges. In addition to her day job as social worker, Helen has worked as a freelance writer and publicist.

My mom brain made me do it

Sara LindbergSundays are a time for reflection and giving thanks.

It’s also the day I tell myself I’m not going to be “That Mom” next week. Since that never seems to work out for me, here is a list of 13 things I did last week that prove I am “That Mom.”

What’s with 13 you ask? Well, it seems like everyone does a list using the number 10 (top 10). I also figured that 20 would make me seem like a real nut job, so I settled on my lucky number 13. So here it is in no particular order, the 13 things I did LAST WEEK that prove that I am “That Mom.”

1. Paid the kids delinquent lunch account online while sitting on the toilet at the gym.

2. LIED about why the kids’ drawings and work from school ended up in the garbage. “I’m not sure how those ended up in there. The babysitter must have done it.”

3. While shopping at Target, Hanna and I acted like Cooper didn’t belong to us. At one point during his wild behavior, I told him quite loudly, “I can’t wait to take you back to your mom and dad’s house.”Hanna and Cooper

4. Skipped entire paragraphs in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban thinking they wouldn’t notice. Let’s be honest. How many of you skip entire pages at bedtime because you are just so dang tired?

5. Getting dressed at the gym, I realized I packed Hanna’s underwear instead of my own. Not such a great feeling when you also have jeans packed for the day. To wear or not to wear?

6. Forgot to fill out picture forms on picture day. Went to the kids’ school that morning to get extras and when I got the stink eye that is only reserved for “That Mom,” I told the parent volunteer that the kids never brought them home.

7. Ate all the frosting around the outside of a cake and told the kids it fell on the floor and rubbed off.

8. Blamed Cooper for my body’s hideous release of gas that resulted from too much Safeway China Express. Desperate times = desperate measures. We were in a small waiting room.

9. Recycled the same lunch three days in a row and swore to Hanna that the sandwich was freshly made.

10. While searching on top of my dresser for their socks, BOTH kids found their baby teeth that the tooth fairy must have forgotten to take with her. In a desperate attempt to avoid a major traumatic event, I said that the teeth belonged to our dead cat and that I just couldn’t get rid of them.

11. Decided to try the old wives’ tale that says rubbing copious amounts of Preparation H on your stomach will get rid of stretch marks from childbirth. Seemed like a good idea until Hanna decided to read the label and asked, “Mom, what does it mean when they say relieves the pain and itching from bowel movements?”

12. Getting out of the shower, Cooper said, “Mom, look at these things I can spin. I’m going to call them the spinners” (testicles). I proceeded to tell him, “If you continue to spin them, they will be gone when you wake up.”

13. Despite all of my mishaps and not-so-great behavior, my kids still love me. I’m one lucky mom!

So there you have it — my list of 13. Looks like I better reconsider putting in for the “Mother of the Year” award.

— Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg is a full-time school counselor with two kids, ages 5 and 7. Her background includes a B.S. in exercise science and a M.Ed. in counseling. She has never considered herself a writer, just a woman with a lot of random thoughts in her head and access to a computer.

Reflections of Erma