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Ham and cheese on why

Bad things happen to me and I ask, “Why?”

Michael PicarellaThe other night, my wife and I took our 11-year-old son and his friend to dinner, and two total strangers sitting across the way paid our bill. They told us we were a “lovely young family.”

“God bless you,” the guy with our tab said.

I asked, “Why?”

Whether good things or bad things happen to me, I’m always asking, “Why?”

Why? Why can’t I accept things as they are and not question the reason or meaning of it all?

It’s not easy crafting these “why sandwiches,” and they’re by no means your typical bologna and cheese. Rather I make a mean Dagwood.

Look at my 30th year alive: Doctors discovered that my perfectly good heart had a problem, and they said I had to get a pacemaker. I asked, “Why?” and added all the fixings to my concern. Around the same time I wrote and directed a fairly mediocre viral ad campaign that got inducted into the Viral Hall of Fame, and again I asked, “Why?” and followed that up with, “That silly ol’ thing I made?”

I simply cannot believe that I deserve the worst or the best, so I couldn’t wrap my head around two businessmen I never met paying for my meal.

“What are they after?” I asked my wife. “You think they’re gonna pitch us aluminum siding or try to include us in some pyramid scheme? It can’t be mere kindness.”

“Or maybe that’s all it is,” my wife replied.

“Should we buy them drinks?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “We should just accept the gesture.”

“How do we accept the gesture? Do we ask how we can help them?”

“No, we say thank you.”

I never thought of that.

My wife and I got up and took our son and his friend over to the two gentlemen, shook hands and offered our gratitude. That was it. Then we walked out, never to see them again.

Guilt — my companion for life. It didn’t need to set in. It’s always there. I kept asking myself, Should we have done more? Should we have exchanged contact information so we could stay in touch? By accepting such a gift are we saying we deserve and demand money to be thrown at our feet?

My wife knows how guilt haunts me constantly, and she asked, “Why can’t you accept the gesture? You deserve it.”

“Who says I can’t accept the gesture?” I asked. “OK, I can’t accept the gesture. It’s just not right — people don’t do that kind of thing.”

Despite how it seems, I was more than grateful, believe me. Money’s been tight, and my wife and I should’ve stayed in for dinner that night. After a long day of work, however, neither my wife nor I wanted to cook. It was my suggestion to dine out. I can’t help it — I love restaurants, especially the whole they-do-all-the-cooking-and-cleaning part of it.

Luckily my wife explained how going to restaurants is expensive and tried to reason with me.

“We’ll order waters instead of soda,” she suggested. “That’ll save us 20 bucks right there.”

Needless to say, we had no business inviting our son’s friend to dinner with us, but he happened to be there when we impulsively decided not to eat at home.

We enjoyed the night. And the food was delicious. I wasn’t worthy.

“There’s nothing you can do about it now,” my wife said days later when I was still obsessing.

“There is something I can do about it,” I said. “I can pay it forward.”

The plan was to go out, find a lovely young family enjoying their meal, and pay their tab.

Before all the “whys” could pile up, I just acted. We didn’t even sit down to eat. I picked out a family from the foyer of the restaurant, and when the hostess asked, “How many?” I pointed and asked for “their bill.”

When the couple and their two sons came over to greet us, they said, “How kind of you, thank you so very much. …We can’t accept.”

Then they paid for their food and walked out, never to see us again.

I was hanging on their last words, and true to form I asked, “Why?”

— Michael Picarella

Michael Picarella is a writer, amateur family man and fascinations expert, with a taste for cookies, milk and the American Dream. His book, Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man), is a collection of stories you can’t live without from his family humor newspaper column, “Family Men Don’t Wear Name Brands,” that appears in the Acorn Newspapers. In 2016, he won an honorable mention in the humor category for newspapers with 50,000 circulation or less in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ national competition. He is also the co-creator and writer of Jack-o’-Lantern Press, a monster blog for monsters only. He’s the filmmaker behind two feature-length tales of suburban noir you’ve never seen, and a content creator whose marketing campaigns include a series of viral ads that was inducted into MarketingSherpa’s Viral Hall of Fame, which everyone should already know.

Vacation rental


Natalie CinelliIt seemed like a really good idea. We would rent a beach cottage with my sister and brother-in-law for a week when we flew home for a family visit. What could go wrong?

What a silly question! We all know things don’t always go as planned. Take, for example, our Canadian friends who rented a condo in Florida for a month. They discovered the place was crawling with ants. Ants everywhere!  The little critters even hitched a ride back home in their luggage. “We literally had ants in our pants,” Marg told me. “Some souvenir!”

Or the friends who checked in to their rental only to discover the plumbing didn’t work. Fortunately, the husband never goes anywhere without his tools. His motto is  “Have toolbox, will travel.” So there he was under the kitchen sink. And my friend was mopping up the floor. Instead of soaking up the rays on the beach. Some vacation!

And how could I forget my bad experience? I was bitten by a scorpion in our rental house in Nevada. I was lucky that the little bugger was not the truly venomous variety or, as the emergency room doctor exclaimed, “You’d be dead right now!”

The sting was excrutiating and I screamed bloody murder. My thumb was numb for a month. But, hey,  at least I was still alive.

This time, however, I thought I found the perfect place on the vacation rental website.

• Two bedrooms
• Two bathrooms
• Tastefully furnished
• Close to downtown
• Steps away from a beach
• Ocean views from the porch

“What do you think?” I asked my sister. “Don’t the pictures look great? And the price is fantastic!”

My sister and her husband decided to drive to the shore to check out the house before we finalized the agreement.

Turns out the house was not where it was supposed to be according to the site’s map.

It was not near downtown, it was not near a beach.

It was situated at the tip of a busy cove thriving with  lobster boats and lobster traps.

Flies all over the place.

Not exactly the peaceful scenic view we were expecting.

“Where’s the ocean view?” I asked the owner. “There’s another house in front blocking the view.”

“Well, not if you look off to the left side of that house,” she explained. “Then you can catch a glimpse.”

I knew the price was too good to be true!

Undaunted, I searched the website again and discovered a real gem:

“Newly renovated, three bedroom, two bath, walk to the beach.”

I couldn’t contain my excitement. Once again I asked my sister to check it out. She contacted the owner and was able to go inside the house.

Looking around, she thought she had inadvertently walked onto the set of one of those home improvement TV shows.

The “newly renovated” house was actually a work in progress. And this was Week One.

“How can you guarantee that this rehab will be completed in time for us to rent?” my brother-in-law asked.

Guess what? Even the Property Brothers couldn’t give us that guarantee.

Not to worry. We have finally found a cottage that seems ideal.

• Close to the beach
• Walking distance to shops and restaurants
• Two bedrooms
• Two couples

I’m just hoping the plumbing works. My husband doesn’t have a toolbox.

— Natalie Cinelli

Natalie Cinelli is a freelance writer who has had articles published in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and American Baby magazine. She wrote a humor column, “In a Nutshell,” for the Suburban News in Reading, Massachusetts. She also worked as a lifestyle editor and columnist for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Chloe and Poppie’s excellent adventure


Jerry ZezimaWhen it comes to writers who are famous for turning real-life adventures into literary gold, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway had nothing on me. That’s because their idea of adventure was to go rafting down the Mississippi, prospecting for gold, deep-sea fishing or big-game hunting.

These pitiful excursions are walks in the park compared to spending two full days with a toddler.

That’s what I did recently when I was in charge of watching my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, with whom I actually did go for a walk in the park and who has turned my life into one giddy adventure after another.

The latest one began at 8:15 on a sunny morning, when my wife, Sue, and I arrived at Chloe’s house, which later that day would become her old house because she and her mommy and daddy were moving into a new house. Sue’s job was to help coordinate a mission that turned out to be more complicated than the invasion of Normandy.

My job, for however long it took, was to watch Chloe. It took 11 hours. And the whole next day. Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, I got off easy.

The first thing I did was to take Chloe to one of her favorite places: Dunkin’ Donuts.

“D!” Chloe exclaimed as she reached for the letter-shaped door handle. “For Dunkin’ Donuts!”

I stepped up to the counter and ordered a bag of Munchkins, which I shared with Chloe, and a cup of coffee, which I didn’t. Contrary to what the surgeon general might say, sugar and caffeine are absolutely essential for any geezer who is about to spend an entire day trying to keep up with an active child.

Next we went to Safari Adventure, which sounds like something Hemingway would go on but actually is a children’s recreation center that would have knocked even him for a loop. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations, although the new owners, Lindsey and Daniel, kindly gave Chloe a cup of ice cream with sprinkles on top.

It was 9:30 a.m. and already she had enough energy to power Manhattan. I figured she could burn it off at the playground. Instead, it almost burned me out.

For two hours, we ran around, going from slide to swing and back again. On the biggest slide, I took her up the stairs and hurried back down to catch her at the bottom. En route, I cracked my skull on a low-hanging bar that blessedly was made of plastic. If it had been steel, I would have bent it. If it was wood, I would have splintered it. Either way, I’d owe the playground a new slide.

Next we went to my house, where I made Chloe her favorite lunch, chicken nuggets, which I cooked in the oven without, somehow, burning the place down. Afterward, we went outside and spent the afternoon running around the yard. Then we came back in, where we ran around some more. I turned on Chloe’s favorite TV show, “Peppa Pig,” and caught my breath before making dinner (you guessed it: chicken nuggets) and playing with her until Sue came home.

That night, Chloe and I slept like babies.

The adventure continued the next day, when I set up her plastic pool outside and frolicked with her in the 6-inch-deep water. Then we ran under the sprinkler and, like Peppa Pig, jumped in muddy puddles. We also swung in my hammock, where I usually have a beer but refrained this time, even though I needed one because soon we were blowing bubbles and running around the yard again.

Around dinnertime, Chloe’s mommy and daddy came over to pick her up.

“Did you have fun with Poppie?” her mommy asked her.

“Yes!” Chloe chirped. “I had fun with Poppie!”

“Did you have fun, Poppie?” I was asked.

“Yes!” I chirped. “I had fun with Chloe!”

That night I slept like a baby again, outdoing Twain and Hemingway and dreaming of our next adventure.

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave 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 the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Olympic sport that transcends the world

Sammy SportfaceIt’s not women’s beach volleyball — although that’s pretty sweet. It’s not the NFL or the NBA or the MLB. It’s not women’s tennis. It’s not LeBron James or Michael Jordan or Kevin Durant. It’s not “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or “Harry Potter” or “Rocky.”

It’s not Danica Patrick — although she’s pretty nice. It’s not Anna Kournikova — although she’s pretty nice. It’s not the women’s steeplechase. It’s not the Main Event poker match in Las Vegas. It’s not the X games nor the Y Games nor the Z games.

It’s not Muhammad Ali. It’s not Greco-Roman wrestling. It’s not Lance Armstrong nor Joe DiMaggio nor Pistol Pete Maravich. It’s not Carolina tag football — what a lame game — trap shooting, the Nordic Combined, the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, the hammer throw, rowing, the Tour de France or Alpine skiing.

It’s not Donald Trump nor Hilary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders, all three of whom have major issues. It’s not Republicans nor Democrats nor Indepenents. It’s not Lyin’ Ted nor Crooked Hillary nor Pocahontas.

It’s not historical novels nor Sports Center nor Clubber Lang, who once hit on Rocky’s wife on the stairs of a Philadelphia government building.

It’s not the Ryder Cup, which Americans always choke away anyway. It’s not Yvonne Goolagong. It’s not Tom Brady nor Giselle Bundchen.

It’s not America nor China nor any of the seven other planets.

It’s not even God Himself nor the other gods themselves. It’s not the Holy Trinity either nor the Holy Ghost of Ms. Muir. It’s not the creation of the Earth, the size of the oceans, nor the stars in the sky. It’s not Pluto nor the Starship Enterprise. It’s not Spock nor the Lone Ranger.

It’s not any of these things. It’s not any of these people. It’s not anything of this world as we know it. It is more important, more cosmic, and more metaphysical than Heaven and Earth and the afterlife that awaits us all.

It is this thing, this act, this spectacle, this Hell on Earth happening that is about to unfold next month in Brazil at the Summer Olympic Games.

It is this weird sport in which the athletes spend most of their lives with their heads underwater alone with their thoughts and unable to speak with anyone, not even their coaches or teammates because you can’t talk when your head is underwater. It is mental torture, torment and self-inflicted tyranny. It is this questionable thing, looking at a black line underwater and staring at it. It is a twisted pursuit.

Staring at the line, it guides you to nowhere. You move your arms and kick your legs in quiet, by yourself, for a huge part of your life, missing countless conversations with friends, parties, normal things almost everybody else does. Your life is abnormal, a form of interpersonal imprisonment.

And for what purpose? Sixty seconds of racing on NBC? Two minutes, maybe. And then it’s over. All that time underwater, living like a fish when you aren’t one, to have a one in a million chance of finishing first, second or third and only getting your national anthem played if you finished first, which is pretty much impossible for almost everyone.

It is this whacked-out thing of wonder we know as swimming.

If you have ever stood on a starting block before a swimming race, you would understand why swimming is the greatest sport of all, the most demanding, the most stressful, the most exhausting, the most scary, the most humbling, the most embarrassing, the most brutally honest test of your strength of character and ability to fight through physical pain to finish a race.

Swimming asks a simple yet profound question of you every time you race: How tough are you? And another key question: Are you a loser or a winner?

There is nothing like swimming in any other part of life. It’s the epitome of pain and strain and going away by yourself to have mental wars. It is being naked in front of people for them to see if you have the talent and toughness to swim faster than the others on the starting block alongside you.

You dive in the water at the start of the race and within five seconds you feel terrible. You want to stop. Everything about the experience is unpleasant and gets worse as the race progressed.

When you dive in the water, you find out what a weak person you are, how dominant water is compared with you. You struggle to breathe.

You want to leave. You want to heave.

Swimming is bigger than the world, more vast than all galaxies, and the most mind-crushing thing you can do with your life because the pain is so great, so constant, and so much more intense than anything else anywhere.

By comparison, basketball, baseball, football, politics and the open seas are jockstraps.

Compared with swimming, Donald Trump is clam chowder and Hillary Clinton a slice of celery. Compared with swimming, Bernie Sanders is an aardvark.

Compared with swimming, Earth is a footnote.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to

Yes, no or none of the above?


Jan MarshallThe week has been filled with hundreds of decisions that need to be resolved.

Shall I report Sean Connery for stalking me or just let him off the hook again? If having cellulite indicates great sensuality, how will I manage to stay chaste just for today?  I am weary of it all.

As an early riser my body awakens much later than I do. I must choose to honor it or let it lay there like lump of lox. Shall I start with coffee or a protein drink?  Vanilla or chocolate; with a bagel or baklava?

Is it the gym, a jog or belly dancing? Actually when I am jogging and jiggling I am belly dancing, in a way. Then the calls come.

How’s my plumbing? (Was that my gynecologist?)

Would I sign a petition against healthy foods in the kids’ cafeteria because of loss of revenue? I call the last caller an “idiot!”

I should have had the coffee before responding. Another call: Would I take a survey regarding the service man assigned to repair my refrigerator who was two weeks late, and oops, arrived without the part ordered 18 months ago?  This happened before the cream turned sour to match my disposition.

Then more calls plus a text asking about the quality of that same serviceman.

I rarely speak to a live survey taker, so all my cursing goes to waste.  Throughout the day there are so many decisions, and at work as well.  Forty-two emails, each needing an answer. And still another from Publisher’s Clearing House asking for the thousandth time what I would do with the money if I did win?

I always need to wash my mouth out with soap after I respond.

There are columns to write and book editing and personal matters that require just the right way to handle the issues. I do not want to answer the simplest question now. I need a respite.

So at the end of the day I decided not to have to decide to defrost or not defrost for dinner. Instead, I went to my favorite cafe to simply relax and be served, since I knew exactly what I wanted. The waitress arrives.

ME: I’ll have a small steak.

SHE: Soup or salad?

ME: Salad.

SHE: Thousand Island, Italian or Ranch?

ME: Ranch.

SHE: Baked potato, French Fries or mashed?

ME: Baked.

SHE: Sour cream with chives, sour cream without chives, chives with bacon, bacon bits…?

ME: Anything, all of them…

SHE: (under her breath, “Animal!”)  How’d you like your steak: rare, medium or well-done?

ME: Charred on the inside, rare on the outside.  Who cares anymore?

SHE: Don’t get hostile, lady. Just doing my job. About the bread: Garlic, French or Parker rolls?

ME: Please, I beg you. Don’t bring bread because you’ll ask me about butter or olive oil? I am now crying.

She seems genuinely sympathetic and fans me with the menu.

She leaves, I gain control, and when she returns with the food, I just pick at it while fantasizing that I am a prisoner allowed only bread and water — a decision made by the warden.

I ask for my check.

SHE: Oh no! Dessert comes with the meal. She goes through 28 types of pie.

ME: I don’t want any, thank you!

SHE: Are you kidding! You cannot leave until you make “all gone.”

ME: I pick one. When she turns her back, I put the pie in my pocket and ask once more for the bill.

SHE: Will I be paying with Mastercard, Visa, American Express or Jack in the Box?

ME: I’ll just pay cash and…

SHE: We no longer take cash, as it is considered archaic. We do, however, take Bitcoin, gold…

I turn my purse upside down, dump my credit cards on the table and run out screaming, “You decide! You decide!” as rhubarb drips down my dress.

So now I’d like to do a survey, friends. Do you think I should hand wash the dress, bring it to the cleaners or simply light it on fire? Please, you decide.

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall has devoted her life’s work to humor and healing through books, columns and motivational speaking. As founder of the International Humor & Healing Institute, she worked with board members Norman Cousins, Steve Allen and other physicians and entertainers, including John Cleese. Her newest satirical survival book, Dancin’ Schmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! is dedicated to Wounded Warriors, Gabrielle Giffords and Grieving Parents. She donates a percentage of the profits to these organizations as well as to the American Cancer Society and the American Brain Tumor Association.

Extra! Extra! Extra!

Paul_LanderCharles Barkley Banned From Vegas “All You Can Eat” Buffets

Hall of Fame basketball great and hoops commentator Charles Barkley found trouble again in Las Vegas. This time it wasn’t Barkley’s well-known gambling habits that put the all-timer in a bind, it was his equally well-known midsection — the one that earned him the nickname “The Round Mound of Rebound” during his storied career.

A group of Vegas casinos announced a ban on Barkley from their “All You Can Eat” Buffets. A representative of Wynn Casino said, “I don’t care how much he loses, it doesn’t make up for the shrimp and lobster the man eats.” The MGM Grand issued a statement: “David Copperfield isn’t this good at making stuff disappear.” New York, New York Casino/Resort added in a press release: “Our hotel can’t handle the plumbing.”

When reached for comment Barkley said: “Sorry about the plumbing, but I thought what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Adding: “And, I didn’t mean to bite that nice lady from Omaha’s hand. But, everyone knows to be careful when reaching for shrimp.”

Donald Trump’s Hair to Announce It’s Transitioning Into A Quilt

The news just got a bit more hair-raising for the beleaguered presidential campaign of presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. Diane Sawyer, in a blockbuster interview, sure to draw comparisons to her sit down with Caitlyn Jenner, announced that Donald Trump’s hair piece will appear with Sawyer to discuss its transitioning into a quilt.

When asked if Trump “wigged out” at the news, the fuzzy patch of yellow answered: “Yeah, he flipped out a little.” Adding: “It’s time. As we say in the trade, “hair today, gone tomorrow.”

Trump’s hair will discuss with Sawyer its desire to transition into being part of a quilt. It’s a project titled “From Hair to Eternity” that will also include well-known retired follicular replacement devices from Liberace, John Travolta, etc.

When reached for a comment, a Trump representative denied the hairpiece existed, but would not rule out a TV show to replace it, tentatively called The Hair Apparent.

UN Reports on Jolie-azation of Third World

The United Nations today called for a temporary ban on Hollywood celebrities traveling to Africa in order to adopt third-world children. “What with famine, war and disease, the African continent cannot afford to lose any more of its youth to adoption by celebrities,” Halie Okafar, Kenyan Under Secretary of the Keeping Our Children Away From Celebrities Ministry, said at a press conference.

Many social scientists have begun to note the trend, calling it the “Jolie-azation” of the Third World. Minister Okafar stated, “Yes, of course, we all want to be adopted by Angelina and Brad. Heck, if the Clooneys are listening. I’m available.” But, Minister Okafar warned, “first it’s Angelina Jolie, then Madonna, and next thing you know, parents will hide their children at even the rumor that David Hasselhoff is in town.”

When asked when a ban might be lifted, Minister Okafar said, “Hard to say. You Westerners have trouble controlling your celebrities. Yes, you held off Ebola, but what have you done to end that scourge known as the Kardashians? You see our point, yes?”

— 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.”

Leave a legacy of laughter

Elaine AmbroseI made it to my 60s without irritating too many people, and now it’s time to consider what legacy, if any, will remain after I die.

Any leftover money should be spent on a lavish farewell wake and community party. My adult children won’t be inheriting stock portfolios or trunks full of gold. By not having those assets, I’ve saved my heirs from dealing with multiple accountants, estate lawyers, tax attorneys and nefarious scoundrels who will take every dime they inherit. My kids do, however, have a chance to own my treasured collection of wine corks from around the world and several baskets of finger puppets. I hope they won’t fight over them.

My kids already have the best gift I could share: a sense of humor. In a wicked world spewing toxic drama and trauma, they possess the ability to laugh in the face of chaos and spit in the eye of the storm. These are essential skills to have as they boldly jump out of the proverbial handbasket going to hell.

For more than 30 years, their comedic talents have caused me to laugh until I snort. This raw ability came in handy during their volatile teenage years when they tested my patience and failed the test. Just as I was ready to use my outside voice when my son missed his curfew, he would come home and share humorous stories of adventure and victimless pranks accomplished with his friends. I tried to stifle my amusement, but it was impossible to be mad at him. He always made me laugh.

My daughter knew how to use silly dialects and animal noises to distract any pending consequences for breaking the rules. If she behaved beyond the normal shenanigans and anticipated my disapproval, she would race into the room, tilt back her head, grab her tongue, and baa like a wounded sheep. There was no use trying to maintain any semblance of parental authority. If I had practiced this clever technique with my father, I wouldn’t have been grounded for 40 years.

My children grew up to become happy, productive adults with loving spouses and laughing children. Their two families include four adults, five children and two dogs, and they often take vacations together. During the last camping trip, they each posed in various yoga positions on a rock overlooking a picturesque river. Ranging in age from three to 46, their techniques included my daughter’s physically toned Lord of the Dance Pose and my son’s creative Danish Flying Old Viking Pose. I laughed out loud seeing the collage of photographs.

Laughter truly is the best medicine, and my children and their children should live healthy lives and giggle well into old age. I’m looking forward to the time when my grandchildren will avoid parental reprimands by telling tall tales and creating animated excuses.

If this next generation of children inherits the gifts of humor, they will be rich, indeed, and can happily continue the family legacy of laughter tax-free.

— Elaine Ambrose

Elaine Ambrose is an award-winning author of 10 books, and her blog posts are published on several websites including The Huffington Post, HumorOutcasts and Midlife Boulevard. Her latest book, Midlife Cabernet, won the Silver Medal for Humor from the Independent Book Publisher Awards program, and Publishers Weekly claimed the book is “Laugh-out-loud funny!” Foreword Reviews wrote that the book is “an Erma Bombeck-esque argument for joy.” She served on the faculty at the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Read about her books and blog at

Fifty shades of pale

Camille DeFer ThompsonBelieve me, it wasn’t easy being a California blonde in the ’60s who couldn’t get her tan on no matter the countless hours I baked on a beach towel, greased from scalp to pedicure with iodine-laced baby oil. Once I hit puberty, I coveted my cinnamon-colored pantyhose, shielding me from indescribable humiliation and ridicule hurled from the Coppertoned mean girls roaming the halls of Skyline High.

Let’s be clear. My paleness is not akin to that of Gwyneth Porcelain Paltrow, or Julianne Ivory Moore. Picture the hideous translucent blue/pink pastiness resembling the glass of skim milk your granny forced you to finish before excusing you from the table after Thanksgiving dinner.

Years ago I resigned myself to the fact that somewhere between high school and the 21st century, stockings became passé for all but Barbara Walters and the assisted living set. How, then to cut the glare emanating from my albino-esque legs?

As luck would have it, one morning I switched on a daytime talk show and caught fellow pallid-skinned Lara Logan singing the praises of Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs. Not a self-tanner, it’s more a leg make-up. A few squirts of the magic potion breathes life into frosty corpse-like gams. From then on, I stored a can in the master bath at all times.

The afternoon of my 40-year class reunion, I showered, brushed on eye shadow and feathered my lashes with mascara. I caked foundation over my un-botoxed forehead, hollow cheeks and humorless laugh lines.

I retrieved the container of faux tan from under the sink. After giving it a good shake, I propped my foot on the side of the tub, aimed at my freshly waxed leg and pressed the spray nozzle. Nothing.


I shook it again and pressed. Nada. Time was running out. I could not enter the banquet room baring it all. Even geeky Beth Coy would be bronze. She’d littered her Facebook timeline with photos of a recent cruise of the Greek Isles. Beads of sweat cracked my stuccoed-on makeup. I need my L’eggs.

I tipped the can upside down and squeezed the button one more time. Zip.

Time to call in reinforcements.

“Jerry, get in here.”

Hubby appeared, buckling his belt. “What’s up?”

I shoved the can in his face. “Nothing’s coming out.”

He pulled his head away and took a step backward. “Wait, what?”

“Honey,” I said, struggling to control my rant. I took a breath. “I need a fresh can.”

“We’re leaving in like 10 minutes. What’s that even for?”

No time for conversation. I grabbed his phone off the dresser and snapped a picture. “Show this to the CVS clerk and tell her you need a new one.”

He squinted at the image.

Flipping my hands at him, I said. “What are you waiting for? Go, go, go.”

“Gimme that,” he said, reaching for the uncooperative can.

He rifled through the vanity drawer, found a safety pin, bent it back and jammed it into the hole in the nozzle.

“Try it now,” he said, handing the container back.

I pointed it at my veiny blue limb and pressed the button.

At last a stream of latte-colored foam spewed from the container.

“Hallelujah,” I said, smoothing the lush liquid over my bare skin. Praying my luck wouldn’t run out, I aimed at the other leg and pressed the button again. Victory.

I admired the warm glow of my reflection in the mirror. The bottom half of my body no longer looked like it belonged to the bride of Frankenstein. It’s alive.

I planted a kiss on hubby’s cheek. “My hero.”

Eat your heart out, Gwynnie.

— Camille DeFer Thompson

After 30 years in local government, Camille DeFer Thompson gave it all up for the glitz and glamour of freelance journalism. Her work has been featured on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog and, as well as in a number of collected works, including, Not Your Mother’s Book…On Working for a Living, Clash of the Couples and Feisty after 45. Camille lives in Northern California. Follow her humor blog at

Reflections of Erma