This humorous column by Jerry Zezima originally appeared in the Stamford Advocate on Feb. 1, 2013. Reposted by permission.
I could never see myself in a little French maid’s outfit, except on weekends while doing my household chores, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever wear one because: (a) I probably couldn’t find something like that in my size and (b) I don’t speak French.
But that didn’t stop me from becoming a maid recently when I joined a team from The Maids, a national house cleaning service, and helped clean my own house.
I wasn’t required to wear a little French maid’s outfit — a yellow Maids polo shirt and a pair of khakis composed the official attire — but I did have to work hard to get all the dirt and dust off floors and out of corners so the house would be, as it often isn’t after I am done with my chores, spotless.
I called The Maids because a husband’s work is never done and, in nearly 35 years of marriage, I have improved my vacuuming, scrubbing and dusting skills to the point where I wondered if I were good enough to be a professional.
“We’ll find out,” said Ken Quenstedt, who owns The Maids franchise that serves northwestern Suffolk County, N.Y., where I live.
Ken came over in a yellow Maids car with four team members: Maria, Mayra, Melanie and Ingris. They were soon joined by Jenny, the field supervisor.
My wife, Sue, who keeps a clean house despite my help, served as the domestic supervisor.
“Jerry didn’t know how to work the washing machine until a few years ago,” Sue told Ken. “But he’s a lot better at chores than he used to be.”
“I’m best at ironing,” I bragged, “because I’m a member of the press.”
“Vacuuming is my specialty,” said Ken, like me an empty nester whose wife appreciates his (not always superlative) efforts around the house.
I thought I was pretty good at it, too, but neither Ken nor I had anything on Maria, who had a space-age vacuum cleaner strapped to her back. It looked like a scuba tank, from which extended a hose with an attachment that Maria expertly maneuvered over the carpeting, along the ceiling and around corners.
“May I try it?” I asked Maria, who graciously helped me strap on the vacuum and showed me how to operate it without getting entangled in the cord, which I did anyway.
“You’re doing a good job,” she said.
I did an even better job of dusting after watching Ingris, the team leader, deftly use her dust cloth on the bureaus and nightstands in the master bedroom.
“I usually dust around things,” I confessed.
“You have to move them,” said Ingris, who was impressed when I followed instructions and did the job right.
“Could I be part of the team?” I asked.
“Yes!” she answered.
Jenny was impressed with my toilet-cleaning prowess after showing me how to correctly use a brush in the porcelain convenience.
“Very good,” she declared.
I was flush with excitement. It was my turn to be impressed after watching Melanie scrub down the tile in another bathroom until it was immaculate.
When I noticed that the team members were wearing shoe covers, Mayra explained, “We don’t want to bring dirt into the house.”
“My feet are so big,” I said, “I should wear garbage bags.”
Instead, the foursome used garbage bags for, yes, garbage, which they emptied out of wastebaskets.
After an hour and a half, they were finished.
“The house has never looked so clean!” Sue exclaimed.
I thanked the hardworking crew for a magnificent job and told Ken that they inspired me to be an even better house cleaner.
“Whenever you do chores,” he suggested, “you can wear the yellow shirt.”
“At least,” I said with a sigh of relief, “I won’t have to wear a little French maid’s outfit.”
— 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. The author of Leave it to Boomer, he has just finished his second book, The Empty Nest Chronicles, slated to be published later this year. He has won four humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month in March 2012.
No matter how you spell it, brace yourself for a wild, global online party, what humorist Dave Fox calls “a cool new kind of writing class.”
Here’s how he describes the 100-hour writing festival:
I’m throwing a big-ass party, and you’re invited. And you can attend, no matter where in the world you are. With goose-bumpy excitement, I’m thrilled to announce the “100 Hours of Humo(u)r” online festival!
It’s going to be my most ambitious and ridiculous web event ever. From March 1-5, my goal is to upload new humor-related content to Globejotting.com every hour for a hundred hours.
Some hours, I’ll be blogging “live,” testing my high-speed writing skills with quick comedy blasts. Other hours will feature humor writing mini-lessons to help you become a funnier person. You can put those lessons into action in “flash humor” writing contests; I’ll announce a topic, you’ll have 60 minutes to crank out something funny and send it to me, and the best stories will win prizes. (And, yes, some hours, I’ll be snoring. During those times, pre-written content will upload automatically, so the hourly flood of goofiness will continue all day and night, regardless of your time zone.)
Why all the hoopla? Two reasons: (1) I wanted a reason to use the word, “hoopla.” (2) During the online party, I’ll be kicking off my new and improved series of online writing classes.
I’ve been working feverishly on a more flexible, more affordable format for my humor and travel writing workshops. These information-soaked courses will cost a fraction of what the original workshops cost, and they’ll include new features such as MP3 audio lessons and the “Globejotters’ Lounge,” our online writers’ hangout. If you’re wanting a more intensive workshop with in-depth, professional coaching, you can purchase add-on critique packages for detailed feedback on your work. These reformatted courses will also offer more flexibility for people with busy schedules. The old workshops took place on specific dates. With the new courses, you can start whenever you like, and work at your own pace.
The “100 Hours” party from March 1 to 5 will include a special pre-sale discount for the new humor course (which is scheduled to be ready around March 15, possibly sooner). The travel writing workshop follows in May, and a new “Writers’ Therapy” class, to help you tackle common emotional challenges writers face, is on deck for later this year.
More details are coming very soon on all the cool stuff that’s included with these courses, and how you can get big discounts on the new writing courses during the 100 Hours of Humo(u)r extravaganza. So check back on my Globejotting.com website in a few days and mark your calendar for March 1-5.
The “100 Hours” fest begins at the following times on March 1:
US Pacific: 6 a.m.
US Eastern: 9 a.m.
Ireland and Great Britain: 2 p.m.
Central European Time: 3 p.m.
Singapore / Hong Kong / Perth, Australia: 10 p.m.
Sydney, Australia: 1 a.m. (March 2)
New Zealand: 3 a.m. (March 2)
— Dave Fox
Dave Fox is author of Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad and Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!), both Amazon bestsellers. He was part of the faculty at the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Sign up for online versions of his fun and popular travel and humor writing classes.
(Gina Barreca’s column appeared in the Hartford Courant Feb. 8. Reposted by permission of the author.)
We all enter this world crying. Laughter is something we have to learn.
We learn to laugh through contact with somebody else who’s doing it, which, unless you’re a twin, is yet another difference from the whole “being born” business.
And although it is possible to laugh alone, like so many other things, it’s a lot more fun to do it with others. I’m thinking, of course, of miniature golf.
My journalist friend Gene Weingarten says, the very moment we learn to laugh depends on having somebody else there. He believes it all comes down to peekaboo. (Yes, like so many other things.)
Weingarten argues that “peekaboo tickles before tickling tickles” and the experience of humor goes back to the moment when a baby watches somebody cover her face with her hands and then yell “peekaboo!” in glee as she removes them. That irrepressible combination of surprise-plus-continuity is at the heart of it, says Weingarten of The Washington Post (I’m referring to peekaboo, not to the paper, you understand).
We adore being a little bit shocked but we also immediately want to see that our shock is just silly. We want to be reminded, by the release of laughter, that what we love has not actually disappeared.
Psychologists refer to this as “object permanence.” Perhaps you’ve referred it to it in less clinical terms if, as I have, you have begun what turned into a marathon session of peekaboo with a tyke who has been affected by too much excitement, sugar or double-espresso shots. Kids will play peekaboo until the cows come home, or until it simply smells as if they did.
Our appetite for that kind of fun dwindles as we grow up. It is replaced by the mind-numbing drudgery of life. After all, there’s kindergarten with its endless crayoning, crayoning and crayoning. And school? With the horror of, well, learning? And sitting? And snacking before learning again? No wonder we lose our mirth.
A sense of humor is not hardwired into our systems once we get past the peekaboo stage; if you’ve ever commuted to work by bus you know this for a fact. But a sense of humor can be developed as can another talent or skill set. Like carrying a tune or picking up the check, however, some people never master the art.
Some folks don’t realize that there is no such thing as an ordinary life.
They believe themselves to have cornered the market on misery, frustration and disappointment. They tell you about their unhappy childhoods and dysfunctional families as if they were the only ones ever to have been ritually humiliated, even before “America’s Funniest Home Videos” went global. They complain about their parents, kids, jobs or neighbors to the point where their tales of woe are, like certain exotic foods, hard to swallow.
But bad times, we must remember, are inevitable: We all face death, we all face suffering, we all face the prospect of another season of “Dance Moms.” You have two alternatives: You can crack up or you can crack a smile.
Unlike bad times, however, good times aren’t bullies who break down the doors and barge in. Joy and pleasure are, instead, excellent guests and, as such, they wait for an invitation. You have to open the door to life’s best moments; you have to invite them in and welcome them when they arrive.
To be honest, I’ve always found that it’s best to make a big fuss when good times appear at the threshold. You want them to feel absolutely at home. You wouldn’t want them to feel that, while you’re happy enough to see them, you were expecting a little more razzle-dazzle. They might not come again. They depend on genuine hospitality. You wouldn’t want them to think they’d arrived too late, or were deemed insignificant, or were weighed and found wanting.
Survival, or making survival worth the bother, depends on seeking joy, uncovering and discovering humor, and, in one of life’s great ironies, carefully nurturing a sense of the absurd.
Remembering to laugh is as essential as learning how to peekaboo in the first place. It can’t make the darkness go away, but it does admit the light.
— Gina Barreca
Gina Barreca, an English professor at the University of Connecticut, feminist scholar and author of eight books, keynoted the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
(Lorraine Holnback Brodek lovingly dedicates her new book, A Nobody in a Somebody World: My Hollywood Life in Beverly Hills, to her dear friend, Erma Bombeck. This is an excerpt from the book’s dedication.)
Humor columnist Erma Bombeck wrote her own obituary on a hot August day in 1977 on the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon. I was with her and her family: husband, Bill; sons, Andy and Matt, and daughter, Betsy. It was all her idea. She had presented the plans for this vacation one evening while we were gathered in their living room.
“Hey, I know the perfect trip for all of us to do together. How about the Grand Canyon!” she said excitedly.
“Hold the phone,” I said. “Is that where you see people screaming for their lives as they bounce down a torrential river and into the rapids and then realize they can’t swim?”
A month later, we drove to the Canyon. All we had to do was hike down the eight-mile Bright Angel Trail to the rafts. Erma’s outfit was electric eclectic, including her shiny new hiking boots.
As we headed down the steep, switchbacks, Erma began limping. “I knew I should have cut my toenails this morning,” she grouched, “the front of these God-forsaken boots have jammed my big toe right up to my left knee!”
The unrelenting Arizona sun was beating down. The 120-degree sand created a burned-rubber smell from our boot soles. The water canteens were with the family jocks who were probably at the rafts by now.
I was 37 and Erma was 50 and suffering from Polycystic Kidney Disease. I knew that water was critical. Not a drop to drink — anywhere!
The next thing we knew, our knees buckled and we hit the sand. Gasping for air, we rolled under a nearby crag from which a scorpion skittered. That’s when Erma mumbled her obit.
“I can see the headlines now…” She rolled her eyes with devilish intent. “Famous Humorist, Newspaper Columnist and TV Celebrity Dies on Trail with Little Unknown Person.”
Then Erma thought she heard angels treading. I said, “All I hear is a clippity-clop.”
And as if on cue, here came the mules!
“You’re the famous columnist, TV star and humorist,” I said. “Stop them!”
Erma rolled out from under the rock and, while flat on her back, yelled up at the old geezer on the lead mule, “Halt! Your money or your salt tablets!”
The crotchety cowboy looked down and grumbled, “I’s sorry ladies, these fleabags have riders waitin’ for ‘em at the river.”
What followed was not pretty. Because Erma was so short, she went eyeball to eyeball with the lead mule. “I know Mr. Ed personally! You’ve heard of the glue factory? Well, I even know Mr. Elmer! Don’t you dare move a hoof until we’re on.”
The wrinkled wrangler relented and helped Erma get her short little legs and tiny shiny boots into the stirrups. Glad to be off our feet and in the saddle, we started humming the Grand Canyon Suite as happiness pervaded the Bright Angel Trail again.
— Lorraine Holnback Brodek
Lorraine Holnback Brodek is the author of A Nobody in a Somebody World: My Hollywood Life in Beverly Hills, a humorous collection of memoir essays, and The Tale of Peeky Peeker, a whimsical Christmas children’s book.
The January/February issue of AAA Journeys magazine traces Dayton’s surprising literary heritage — and points to the University of Dayton’s efforts to keep Erma Bombeck’s legacy alive through a workshop in her name.
“At first blush, the city of Dayton in Ohio’s Miami Valley seems like a typical Midwestern city: friendly, accessible and affordable. So how can such an Orville-normal place produce such genre-busting literary figures as Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African-American writer and poet to garner national fame, and the nationally syndicated humor columnist and author Erma Bombeck, considered one of America’s first ‘domestic goddesses’ even before comedian and actress Roseanne Barr coined the term?
There is no single explanation, but visitors and aspiring writers may find their own Miami Valley muses by soaking up the history at the Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial House, attending the University of Dayton’s biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop or just hanging around one of the Midwest’s largest bookstores, Books & Co., where Garrison Keillor likes to sing.”
It’s worth a read. Click here for the full story.
It’s Super Bowl week. Time to start feigning interest in football. It seems no matter how many times my husband and sons have explained the game to me (usually once annually, on Super Bowl Sunday), I just can’t get into it.
I recently realized why: There is basically no tangible relationship between the pigskin and the guy carrying it. Sure there’s motive to bring it to the end zone and score your team a ring. The lure of jewelry, I totally get.
But where’s the back story that draws me in and compels me to keep watching? The witty repartee laced with sexual tension? The protagonist’s inner demons that need to be battled? It coincidentally does not take place in a circa 1960s advertising agency where everyone broods, drinks and wears fabulous clothes. This alone could be a major contributor to the problem.
Yes, I know it’s insane to think the Super Bowl could play like an episode of a TV drama like Mad Men. I mean, hello. …. It’s obviously got much more of a romantic comedy vibe. After all, the agony on the players’ faces must have a cause. Who’s to say it’s not unrequited love? And have you seen what these guys wear and how ridiculous grown men look all piled up on top of one another? Comedic gold.
The viewing experience would be vastly improved by simply illustrating the relationship between man and football. These proposed tweaks would make me actually want to see what happens next during the game…Are you listening, CBS?
Picture this: A quarterback and a football leave college to drive all night, bickering and bantering their way from Chicago to New Yor — er, I mean, New Orleans. The quarterback points out how he and the football can never truly be friends because their underlying attraction for each other will get in the way, a fact that will be driven home when the football fakes an orgasm at a roadside diner near the 50-yard line. The two part ways to head into separate locker rooms, and I’m glued to the edge of my seat because I just know they’re meant to be together.
Close to midnight on Super Bowl Eve, the quarterback finally admits he’s been in love with the football all along. He swoops her up and carries her an unstoppable 90 yards to the end zone, pushing all others out of his way — because when he realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, he wanted the rest of his life to start as soon as possible. The marching band plays “Auld Lang Syne” as they score the winning touchdown together. Afterwards, the quarterback says he’d like a coconut Vince Lombardi Trophy cake, with the chocolate sauce on the side.
All right, I’ll admit part of that just isn’t plausible. I mean, when do marching bands ever play “Auld Lang Syne” during the Super Bowl, right? Maybe Madonna was busy. Work with me here.
How about this? The football and the wide receiver have been fighting their attraction for a long time due to his emotional immaturity. When the quarterback throws the pass, the wide receiver leaps high into the air to catch the football. As the two tumble to the ground together, the football says, “You complete me.” Later, in front of all the cheerleaders, the wide receiver explains the football simply had him at “hello.”
C’mon, that could be the first Super Bowl in history where you’d need tissues. Hear that, Kleenex? Potential sponsor opportunities! You’re welcome.
Still not convinced of the Super Bowl’s romantic comedy potential?
Okay, final suggestion: A linebacker feels hurt and abandoned by his beloved football. Enraged, he charges the other team, being careful to avoid the quicksand, fire swamp and Rodents of Unusual Size (R.O.U.S.). He tackles the six-fingered quarterback, and as the football rolls down the synthetic turf, the linebacker hears her cry out “….as…you…wish….” The linebacker realizes the football never really stopped loving him and had merely been forced to play a scrimmage with the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Tell me you wouldn’t turn in for such blockbuster Super Bowl plots as these proven winners. I can’t believe Hollywood has yet to call upon me for my screenwriting skills.
But something tells me the networks won’t go for it. I’ve heard those R.O.U.S. are ruthless when it comes to salary negotiations, and the Super Bowl is certainly no place to throw billions of dollars around.
Guess I’ll just have to resign myself that the only declaration of undying love during this Super Bowl Sunday is going to be mine — for the nacho platter.
Actual Length of Super Bowl: 4 hours…give or take eleventy-billion hours of pre/post-game commentary
Real Feel: 36 hours
Real Feel If Super Bowl Were a Romantic Comedy: 30 minutes, tops
Chance They Will Change It into a Romantic Comedy: There’s always 2014
HOW ABOUT YOU? Which do you prefer? The Super Bowl or a romantic comedy?
— Christie Storms
Christie Storms has written stories since she was old enough to use a stapler. While she did not write with said stapler, it was vital in binding pages together to begin presenting her parents with a multitude of unsolicited manuscripts. Professionally, Christie has written numerous articles for local publications over the past decade and additionally blogs material she has been told is humorous by somewhere between 3 and 3,000,000 people.
(Mary Farr’s newly published Never Say Neigh is told through the mouth of a wise and witty horse, Noah. Noah’s tongue-in-cheek blog on the challenge of tweeting with his hooves is reposted by permission.)
The release of my new book has prompted me to pause and reflect on this unexpected and occasionally awkward path I’ve chosen as an author. Well… awkward for a horse anyway. A case in point: social media.
Yes, social media is a must for aspiring aspirers. Whether pitching fat-free cupcakes or kitty house training curriculums, everyone seems to be jumping into online self-promotion. Frankly, I had high hopes for my Equine Epicurean blog until Google Analytics informed me that my recipes contained too much fiber for anyone under the age of 70.
Anyhoo, I now find myself grappling with a dainty iMac keyboard designed for dainty fingers not hooves. Take WordPress, for example. When Madam told me it was my job to manage the “back door” of my WordPress website, I thought she meant the back door—that place where the Waconia Co-op drops off my groceries. But no, instead I’m busy uploading blog posts and trying to size photos smaller than the barn door. A recent attempt to post a glamor shot of myself resulted in a close up of my left nostril.
Then there’s the Facebook challenge. Though I’m never short of things to say, getting the words right side up on the screen presents a technical quagmire for a horse. That and the fact that fans ask me bewildering questions such as, “Can I come to work for you?” Or, “Will you marry me?” Or “What musical instrument to you play?” Following that last question, a band director from Fargo offered to teach me how to play a trombone. It’s a mystery.
So, my friend Gabe the cribbage whiz said he would help me set up a Twitter account. By the way, Gabe spends a lot of time online studying cribbage CliffsNotes. This explains why he never loses a game. Due to his technical expertise, I assumed he knew something about Twitter. He did, or at least he set up the account. Then he took off and left me to manage it.
Let me just say that my first Twitter follower was a woman who called herself “Sweet Cheeks” and wanted to meet me under the Yum Yum tree. The next arrival claimed her name was “Anything Goes.” This one included a photo of herself as evidence that anything and everything had already gone. Her dress, that was. Me oh my, it was time to change my profile from tall, dark and handsome fellow to tall, dark and handsome gelding. It’s another social media mystery.
Meanwhile it’s almost noon, and I have yet to post anything original on Linkedin.
— Noah Vail
Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on the newly published book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy” blogs here.
On a recent trip to Costco, the Silverback and I each purchased a pair of Nordic Walking Poles. We convinced ourselves we’d walk more frequently and more effectively with said poles in our hands. The first week, they sat in the garage, still in their boxes. Today, after deferring our walk from 9 a.m. to noon to 3 p.m., we finally set out at nearly 4 p.m. First order of business was determining what length the poles should be.
Me: Should they be ergonomically correct with the elbow at a 90-degree angle when the arm hangs down or should they be longer or shorter?
Silverback: I don’t know. Whatever’s comfortable, I suppose.
After futzing around with the things for at least 20 minutes we were off.
First, the dog did not approve of the sticks and was constantly checking over her shoulder to see if she was in danger of being stabbed. The Silverback attached her leash to his belt loop keeping her a few paces behind him. As the beta female who I expect to challenge me for alpha bitch any day now, she was not happy about this either. But such is a dog’s life.
Use of the sticks proved challenging too.
Me: How do we hold them?
Silverback: Not like you’re doing. The little feet at the bottom need to both point forward. One of yours is gimpy.
Me: Why would that matter? The surface area is like one square inch.
Silverback: Alright but when you start veering off to the side and walking around in circles, don’t come crying to me.
Me: I think we need to take a training course in the proper use of these things. I have no idea what I’m doing. Do we move the poles independently in a walking stride or do we use them like ski poles and we’re shushing across a flat part?
Silverback: I’m shushing.
Me: Was there a book or pamphlet that came with the sticks?
Silverback: They’re not sticks, they’re walking poles. And no, no manual. Just three different tips — one for all-terrain, one for sand and one for snow.
Me: (laughing) You’re kidding, right?
Silverback: No, I’m not. These are the all-terrain tips on them now. Watch out for that slug.
Me: (shuddering) Whatever. My shoulder hurts. I think mine are too long. (We stop for five minutes adjusting the length of my poles while the dog runs around off leash scattering her #2 business in her typical 50-foot radius.
We take off walking again, garnering a few stares from the younger crowd. Why wouldn’t they stare?
We get about a quarter into our usual route when I feel a pole poke me in the butt.
Silverback: Slow down a little will you?
Me: Where’s the speed control on these things? I can’t help but go faster and faster. It’s like wearing the magical dancing shoes. No matter how tired you are, the slippers force you to keep dancing!
Silverback: Well, that’s silly. Just stop for a second. (He catches up.) There! Was that so hard?
Me: You couldn’t have increased your speed to catch me?
Silverback: I do have the dog to consider, remember. I’ll bet no one’s seen people using walking poles around here before.
Me: We got them at Costco. That means we’ll see everyone and his brother using these things before long.
Silverback: Yeah, but we’re the cool kids who got them first.
A yard full of children point at us and laugh.
Me: Yeah, real cool.
Silverback: I think they’d make decent disciplinary implements, too.
It starts to rain.
Me: They should have put umbrellas in the tops of these things so they aren’t just pretty faces.
Silverback: I think they’d be better if they put weights in them, in the middle. Of course, I guess we could just walk with weights in our hands instead.
Me: I’ve seen people do that, and walk carrying umbrellas.
We continue to walk and nearly two hours and a Starbucks latte later, we’re back in our own neighborhood.
Me: These poles are all that are keeping me moving now, I’m so tired.
Silverback: I feel like I’m on autopilot.
Me: I’ll bet my arms are sore tomorrow.
Silverback: (laughs) Oookay.
Me: Do you think the kids even missed us?
Silverback: Probably not. Here we are. Give me your poles. I’ll tether these babies in the garage.
Me: Be sure to give them a good rub down. They worked hard today.
— Claire Gillian
Claire Gillian is the pen name for a number-crunching executive by day and a darkly romantic curmudgeon by night. Her debut novel, The P.U.R.E., was released in April 2012. She also writes 50 shades naughtier stuff under the pen name of Lila Shaw, but please don’t tell her mother. No matter which name she uses, Claire is happiest penning romance drenched in humor with a dash of intrigue and loads of spice. She lives in the boggy Pacific NW with her husband and two teen-aged sons.