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Shoulder rub, ravioli
rock New Jersey restaurant

Charles HartleySoon after you sit at your restaurant table, you feel the soft touch of human hands on your shoulders from a person directly behind. Others at your table stare, watch and wonder. They suspect they could be next in line for the pre-meal shoulder massage.

Being caressed is a tradition when you eat at Guerrerio’s Ristorante on South Street in Morristown, N.J. I experienced this again this past Saturday night while with my wife and another couple. The stroker is owner Jack Guerrerio, who is white-haired, blue eyed, slightly plump and not very tall.

Whether he intends it to be or not — it probably is because Jack seems shrewd — the shoulder rub is one of Jack’s competitive differentiators in the restaurant market. In these touchy times, it seems risky to stroke strangers without warning nor consent. But in this narrow nest, Jack does it in a genuine and non-threatening way. His hands are saying “Welcome to my restaurant. You made a great decision to come eat here.”

During the shoulder rubs, Jack tends to regale you with stories about his past. On Saturday, he went on with me about his days playing football decades ago for Morristown’s Delbarton School. After boasting about how hard he used to tackle players, he mentioned something in passing about also being the team’s kicker or something. I got the impression Jack played on every down of every play and was the team’s star and emotional leader.

As unusual as the shoulder touches are, there is something even more unusual about this dining experience: the taste of Jack’s ravioli, meatball and sausage dish. Swamped in meaty tomato sauce that sprawls across the plate from edge to edge, the meatballs are nearly the size of Major League baseballs. Easy to cut and plump, there are no tastier meatballs anywhere. To complement these circular wonders, you get a chunk of sausage laced with a spicy hit that catapults what is already a great food into the stratosphere among the ethereal gods above.

Usually when you order ravioli at a restaurant you get just a plate of ravioli. At Jack’s joint he packs the plate with not just one type of meat — but two. It’s a double play, twice as nice, two times a lady.

There is no Italian food that tastes better. The previous time I ate there before Saturday I asked Jack why his ravioli is the best around. He told me it’s the creamy, rich cheese. On Saturday I told him I believe it’s the meaty tomato sauce. He let me believe what I wanted to believe.

The customer is always right. Jack knows this kind of stuff.

Whatever it is, I will be back again soon and order another heaping plate of Jack’s Italian Stallion. As far as I’m concerned, they can throw away the menus. From Jack I know what I want and always will. In the weeks leading up this feast, I fantasize about the ravioli and shoulder rub. It outperforms my fantasies.

Because I’ve eaten there several times, Jack makes me feel as if he knows me. But given how crowded his place is all the time, I suspect it’s hard for him to keep track of all his patrons. These include several noteworthy people, even some more famous than me. On that list are New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra, Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, whose team won the national title last season, and New York Jets long snapper for punts. His is not a household name, nor is his position central to a football team’s success, so there is no need to provide it here.

In the photo section of the restaurant Website is a shot of cool-hand Jack in black-shaded sunglasses. Standing in front of the green and red sign that reads Guerriero’s Ristorante, there you see his maroon convertible Buick. It is parked along the curb. Jack probably can park there any time he wants without getting a ticket. The cops no doubt know him and like his food so may very well give him a pass. Classic quid pro quo deal.

In studying the picture, I get the sense that, besides his restaurant, his favorite toy in life is his car. It’s a picture that makes me want to hop in the passenger seat and have Jack take me for a cruise through Morristown explaining how he makes the world’s best ravioli and why no one can match its deliciousness.

On this drive I would be eager to hear him share more stories about who he out-maneuvered and out-thought in high school to win over the prettiest girls; how Morristown has grown under his watchful eye and what he thinks of the town’s local politics; how he got into the restaurant business; and why as they sit to eat he rubs his customers’ shoulders.

Before too long, however, I would ask him to turn around and take me back to his restaurant. As I ordered another plate of ravioli, I would beg him to rub my shoulders — again.

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

Actually you do have to put on your red dress, Roxanne

Diane Laney FitzpatrickI have successfully met the requirements of a second color theme gala. I feel like a trophy is in order. At the very least, a ta-da.

It took me two months from the time I got word that my husband and I would be attending an organization’s annual gala, and I Googled pictures from past years and saw that virtually every single woman was wearing red.

I started a search for a red dress, since I’m not one to pooh-pooh a theme. I know my role at these things. I don’t need to dress so that I look good. I need to dress so that I don’t mess up the entire room looking good.

Easier said than done. I was willing to wear an unflattering dress to play along with the red theme, but there’s a limit. As if buying a floor-length formal gown wasn’t hard enough. We’re talking about an item of clothing that went out of fashion 100 years ago with everyone except for the Monopoly Man’s wife. Telling a woman in 2015 that she has to wear a formal gown is ballsy. Telling her that in addition to it fitting her, being a non-hazardous length and being age appropriate, it has to be a specific color is downright aggressive.

That’s just one too many boxes to check. It reminds me of the clothes buying spree I went on in 1994, where I decided to buy only clothes made in America. I concluded that I could either be a patriot who supports my country’s textile manufacturing industry, or I could not look like I was not an escapee from a mental hospital, who stole other people’s clothes.

It turns out that five is the maximum number of sections in the Venn diagram in clothes buying: You can find something that 1. fits 2. is affordable 3. is seasonal  4. doesn’t make you look like a hooker, and 5. goes with the shoes you already own. Adding a sixth — made in the USA — leaves you with one scratchy peach sweater and a pair of baggy capris with “cool” embroidered on the back pocket.

I thought I remembered seeing oodles of red gowns when I was shopping for a blue one last year. They were everywhere. But come February, department stores seemed to thumb their noses at Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year. Coral was big. Hot pink was prevalent. Salmon was everywhere. Fuschia seemed to be the new red. But there wasn’t a real red dress to be found.

I take that back. I found two red gowns at Macy’s. One was an Egyptian number with cut-outs all over the torso that seemed to spell NUBILE.  The other had a diamond cut out right where your cleavage might be if you had any. At best, this gown would make you look like a Hooters waitress or a pre-teen boy.

I searched high and low and finally opted to order online, something I rarely agree to. Nordstrom had a red gown that came in my size, seemed perfectly middle-class acceptable, so I ordered it.

It’s fine. Really. It will be fine.

The good news: I don’t need any new accessories.

The bad news: I do need new underwear, a new torso and lipo. The dress fits like a glove, if a glove were made of hand sanitizer and static cling. There is cellulite on my thigh that I can’t see with a magnifying glass, but that can be seen from across a dance floor in this dress. My butt looks like the top of an overcooked casserole. I discovered a mole on my hip that I’m going to have to get looked at.

The only parts of my body that don’t look like the surface of the moon are the parts that this dress doesn’t cover. That would be my arms. And they, honestly, have never won any body part contests. So I suggest they enjoy the short-lived Best Looking Thing on My Body title while they can.

The better news: I hear the red gala has dim lights, so as not to cause any injury to the younger people’s eyes.

— Diane Laney Fitzpatrick

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick is a writer, humorist and blogger who lives in San Francisco. She writes a humor blog, Just Humor Me, and has published a book, Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves, about her many cross-country moves with her family. A former newspaper reporter and editor, she is the mother of three grown children.

Gathering to not wear clothes

Pat GardnerIt was during a meal that my younger brother suddenly began stripping. (He was 3 and I was 10.) My daddy jokingly told him, “This is not a nudist colony we’re running.”

Immediately I wanted to know what a nudist colony was. My daddy explained that it is a place where people gather to not wear clothes. I was amazed. He went on to say that one operated a couple of hundred miles south of us. As I tried to imagine the scene, he added that there was a movement to do something about it.

“Do you mean,” I gasped, “that they’re coming out into the streets?”

It would be nice to say that was when I became a subversive free spirit, assuming that personal choices are private unless they affect other people. I could claim that, in that moment, an academic was born, like when the child in a Whitman poem becomes a poet. Actually, the subject of undressing makes me think more of a day when I was 12.

It happened in the girls’ dressing room after P.E. class. I was cowering, partly behind the door to my locker, trying to change clothes without revealing the fact that I did not have a bra. (That was before the days of bra-burning. In junior high a bra was proof of being grown up, even for a 12-year-old with the shape of a child.) My mother — probably not understanding that we all undressed in a herd — insisted that I was too young to wear a bra.

Standing there exposed was humiliating enough, without having to endure the “in crowd” of girls. They held all of the class offices except for the ones their male counterparts had. Years later I would learn that the class officers had all been to the “in” elementary school.

As I stood there groping to keep my chest covered and to get dressed at the same time, the “in” girls were giggling and whispering secrets. The one whispering would lean forward to show off her lacy bra. Suddenly, with a front-buttoning blouse halfway on and the bare side of my chest turned toward the locker, I vowed to replace the in-crowd.

It took me five years. Probably it didn’t hurt that, in my junior year in high school, a football player asked me for a date and did not show up. Apparently his friends on the team knew. Anywhere they saw me — like in the lunch line — they shrieked in sort of a cat-call, “Tricia, Tricia.” Then, in the same cat-call voice, they shrieked the name of the one who had stood me up. Always shy, I found being singled out in the middle of a crowd as humiliating as being without a bra when I was 12.

Still, everybody learned my name. The following fall, I was elected treasurer of the senior class.

— Pat Gardner

Pat Gardner, a retired academic, lives with her husband and their half-spaniel dog Baggins. She enjoys meeting outrageous people in places like grocery stores.


Garbage anxiety, Alaska style

Lois Paige DimensionDidn’t get sleep last night. Not because the sun is up playing all night, and not because of an all-night party next door, but because of the bears. It’s that time of year again, mid-summer, when brown and black bears troll for garbage.

Bears follow any food source, the easier, the better. Homeowners in Alaska know the drill. Be Bear Aware: DON’T FEED THE BEARS!

People post photos on Facebook, to shame homeowners — garbage strewn about driveways and yards, with bears happily munching leftover pizza, or licking beer bottles (Alaska Amber is a favorite among bears — please don’t ask me how I know this).

Seeing these late-night marauders alerted us to action. This is torture for a Not-A-Morning-Person. I dutifully set my alarm for 7 a.m. to: 1) spring out of bed in a stupor, 2) try not to fall down the stairs, 3) try not to yank the door off its hinges because I’m too groggy to unlock it, 4) stumble-fall down more stairs, 5) grope for the garbage container and 6) roll it like a chariot goddess in my pjs over our long-as-the-wall-of-China driveway to the curb, where the truck is usually waiting for me.

Last night I startled awake every 15 minutes: Is the truck here yet? Did I sleep through my alarm? Are the bears chewing on my porch? Are they waiting for me to emerge in my skivvies, so they can have a piece of me?

I flopped back on my pillow, almost asleep, then — the sound of the garbage truck working its way closer sprung me out of bed like a trebuchet. SMACK! Right into the wall. Rubbing my nose, I bawled like a toddler.

“Oh NO, the garbage, the garbage, the GARBAGE!” I yammered and flailed, like it was a 30.5 mag earthquake.

A voice under the covers said, “I took it out.” Guru Man (that’s what I call my husband unit) didn’t think I’d get up (he was right).

We argued about it the night before:

GM: “Just set the container out before bed.”

Me: “No! The bears’ll get it and spread garbage from here to Homer, and Fish and Game will fine us a thousand bucks!”

GM: “It’s a hundred bucks. Wait’ll after midnight, when it’s legal.”

Me: “Facebook said the bears have been showing up at 3 a.m.”

GM: “Then set it out at 4 a.m.”

Me: “Are you inSANE? Bears aren’t idiots, they’ll wait for it.”

GM: “Why do you have garbage anxiety?”

Me, screaming: “I do not have garbage anxiety!”

My morning bed-emerging performance made a liar out of me. Okay, so I freaked out when the truck roared in, thinking I overslept. Who wouldn’t? All day I’ve been a crabby slug from lack of sleep, moping from room to room.

GM: “I think you need closure. Get the empty container and stick it in the garage.”

Me: “I know where I’d like to stick it.”

GM: “You still have garbage anxiety. Bringing in the container will give you closure.”

I plodded down the stairs, out the door, and dragged the container inside the garage. Do I feel better? Why, yes, I do–until next week’s garbage pickup rolls around.

Thank God this only happens once a week. If I were a morning person, it wouldn’t be an issue. But I’m not — and I never will be (she said defiantly).

The bears don’t even care; they don’t appreciate how I suffer, to not offer them a weekly buffet.

Okay yes, I have garbage anxiety (she said begrudgingly). Anyone know of a support group?

— Lois Paige Simenson

Lois Paige Simenson lives in Eagle River, Alaska. She writes for newspapers and magazines, is a playwright and has a blog, The Alaska PhilosophasterShe is working on her debut novel, The Butte Girls Club. She’s been recently published in The Anchorage Press and Memorabilia magazine.


Anne BardsleyI first met 75-year-old, Benjamin, in the kitchen at hospice. I was making my usual Wednesday soup when he wandered in.

He had a great smile and wore a green crocheted cap. He wore the standard Army-brown pajamas. He no sooner arrived, and the dietician followed him for a meeting.

“Ben, what are your favorite foods?” she asked. “I can order anything you like.” He thought for a minute and said, “I like to eat healthy. No sugar. No salt. I need protein and anti-oxidants.”                                                                                               “Ben, you can order anything you like. Do you like lobster?” she asked.

He studied the menu. She handed him a supplement drink to sip. The first thing he did was check the label. “Whoa! Did you see how many carbohydrates are in this drink?” “Ben, it’s all good. You can have this daily,” she counseled. “Daily? Look at the sugar and carbs in here! I am a health nut, for crying out loud. I can’t have this.”

She looked at me confused. Most hospice patients will order foods they love like lobster, steak and fancy desserts. Ben was having none of that. He wanted anti-oxidants and organic food.

He requested extra onions in his soup, extra onions in his omelet. He wanted extra onions in anything and everything. “They’re anti-oxidants,” he told me. I added a five-pound bag of onions to the next shopping list.

My husband, Scott, always visited each room and chatted with the patients and families. He was so happy that Ben was getting a new roommate. “Ben, they’re moving in a roommate for you. You’ll have company now.”

Well, it turned out that the new roommate, Todd, was not a health nut. He rode a Harley. One of his favorite hangouts was Shadracks, a biker bar in Passa Grille on the beach. While Todd preferred a beer and greasy hamburgers, Ben wanted sugar-free, organic food. The two of them became our favorite patients to visit. It was Felix and Oscar from the “Odd Couple” all over again.

It was near Thanksgiving when I asked them if they had a request for something special. Ben shouted out right away, “A pumpkin pie, with no sugar!” This sent Todd into a tirade. His arms were flailing. His face was beet red.

“Oh for the love of God! Will someone get him a damn pie? I can’t stand to hear one more word about sugar-free pie! Every pie they bring him is too sweet for him.”

Ben just smiled. I asked Todd what he would like and he said, “A pumpkin pie to shut Ben up.” And so I found a low-sugar pie and brought it in. Todd thought it was wonderful. Ben thought it was still too sweet.

The following week Ben shocked me by asking for a Butterfinger candy bar. “Ben, you never eat candy.” “I have a craving for a Butterfinger.” The next visit I brought a jumbo-sized Butterfinger for him. I have a picture of him holding it in his hand with a big smile on his face. He ate the entire bar and went to sleep for two full days in sugar shock.

Todd said it was the best two days of his life!

Ben kept me company whenever I volunteered in the kitchen. I loved his smile. I knew it would be difficult for me when his time came. It was actually hard to believe he had cancer because he was such a character. He had a smile for everyone and always made patients and families laugh.

His family came for breakfast that Friday. His sister came running in the kitchen, “Anne! Anne! We have to take Ben to the Tampa airport. He wants to fly.”

We’d learned in training that people will use metaphors at the end of their life. What he was telling her was that his spirit was getting ready to fly soon.

Naturally, his time did come. I went into his room at breakfast to take his usual order: two eggs over easy, whole wheat toast, orange juice and a piece of the French toast bake I made every week. He was half sitting up against his pillow. His eyes were closed and he had a big, old smile on his face. He opened his eyes to say, “Anne, I think I’m getting ready to soar. It is so beautiful there.”

I hate when they leave us and felt the tears sting my eyes.

“I’m going to miss you, Ben. You are one of my favorites here.” I held his hand.

“I’ll miss you, too, Anne. Maybe when I get to Heaven, I can ask God to send you up, too.” He squeezed my hand.

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! “No Ben, not yet, please. I have kids and grandkids I would miss. And who would feed Scott?” He agreed not to ask God to send me up. “I’ll just see when it’s your time,” he grinned at me. I made him promise he wouldn’t ask for my early check-in to Heaven. I was really going to miss this guy.

A few days later, Ben passed in his sleep, peacefully. He’s in Heaven now enjoying sugar-free pudding that supplies his favorite, vitamin D.

I only knew him for a few months, but I keep him on a shelf in my heart.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at Anz World.

Home alone

Jerry ZezimaIf Hollywood wants to make another “Home Alone” movie, this time with the Macaulay Culkin character all grown up but no more mature than he was as an 8-year-old in the 1990 original, I would be happy to take the role.

That’s because I was recently left home alone for the weekend.

My wife, Sue, without whom I would have starved to death long ago, went out of town, leaving me to my own devices. Fortunately, the devices included a corkscrew, if I wanted some wine, and a bottle opener, if I wanted some beer. I had both, though not at the same time because even I know that if you go too crazy on the libations while you are home alone, and happen to lock yourself outside or start a kitchen fire and can’t find the phone to call 911, or realize, as the house burns to the ground, that you forgot to buy marshmallows, there is no one there to help you.

In fact, there is no one there to do anything with you. Dismiss the notion that you will have a wild party. When the cat’s away, the mice will not play. I am a man, not a mouse, and the only creature that kept me any company was our cat, Bernice, who is — I say this with great affection — a total moron.

To make sure I wasn’t bored, Sue left me a list of things to do, including the crucially important chore of watering the garden.

“Did you remember to do that?” she asked when she called, presumably to see if I was still alive.

“Yes,” I told her proudly. “I was so excited, I wet my plants.”

I could hear Sue’s eyes roll in their sockets on the other end of the phone.

Still, I wanted a little time to myself, which wasn’t difficult since I was alone anyway, so I drove into town to buy a cigar.

When I got to the cigar store, I asked the owner, Julio, if his wife had ever left him home alone.

“Yes,” he said.

“What did you do?” I wondered.

“I took out the garbage and watched a lot of sports on TV,” said Julio, who will celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary in October.

“That’s a biggie,” I noted. “Don’t forget it.”

“I did forget our anniversary once and my wife wasn’t happy,” Julio said. “Now I write it down on the calendar. If I forget it again, she might leave me home for good.”

Outside, I met Frank and Denise, who have been married for 28 years.

“Has your wife ever left you home alone?” I asked Frank.

“Once,” he said.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I went to Puerto Rico,” Frank answered.

“What a swell idea!” I exclaimed. “But I don’t have time. My wife will be home tomorrow.”

“Make sure you clean up after yourself,” Denise advised. “You don’t want your wife coming home to a mess.”

“I’ve been making messes for the 37 years we have been married,” I said. “But I’ll try to make sure the house is nice and neat.”

When I got home, I went outside, climbed into a hammock with a beer and a cigar, and enjoyed some quality time with myself.

Afterward, I heard the familiar strains of the neighborhood ice cream truck. I went around front and bought a toasted almond bar from Chris, who has been on the same route since the 1970s.

“Does your wife ever leave you home alone?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Chris, who has been married for 48 years.

“What do you do?” I inquired.

“Eat, work and sleep,” he said. “Some guys fool around.”

“Not me,” I said.

“Me, either,” said Chris, who admitted that he doesn’t do household chores while his wife is away.

“I do,” I said. “In fact, I have to go inside and do them before my wife gets back. But I’ll tell you this: The next time she leaves me home alone, I’m going to Puerto Rico.”

— 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.

Left to our own devices in Devizes

Hillary IbarraI had only one rule on my first overseas trip, and I recited it to my friend Holly obsessively in confronting each new challenge, “Well, you know what I say, don’t you? Ask somebody!”

Not even the cheerless faces and curt responses of most Londoners could make me renounce that rule. I’ve never been afraid to annoy complete strangers, even foreign ones, for my own benefit.

My friend Holly, on the other hand, navigated London like a pro without me a couple times, mapping routes on intricate tube and train maps and finding her way back to my brother’s house twice without asking anyone. So why a simple lock box at our vacation rental in Devizes flummoxed her, I can’t say, but I strongly suspect it had something to do with my corrupting influence.

Our cell phones didn’t work overseas, and the lock box stymied us in a sleepy English town after dusk. There was no one to ask, so I was fresh out of ideas.

Normally when things went wrong, I simply shrugged and quoted my husband’s favorite, “It is what it is!” and Holly responded in her best New Jerseyese, “Fo’get abou’ it.” But we had already had a hard night. The train from London was late, and we had missed the last bus leaving Bath for Devizes. We asked a cabbie how far to that charming canal town famous for a different kind of lock, and he replied, “Oh, about 35 kilometers. Last time I drove there I think the fare was £55.” The train had been £32; the bus cost a mere five! For a minute I contemplated just how bad a 35-kilometer walk could be in decent weather.

Instead, we chose to chuckle with our cabbie about “booking a cottage within walking distance of Bath” as he navigated endless roundabouts through numerous villages. An hour spent, the cab dropped us off at the alley access from our cottage, number 6 “Birdveil” Street, at dusk.

The key was in a lock box by the garden gate. I grabbed a torch hanging on a hook and held it for Holly as she quickly lined up the four-digit code I read off to her. There was a tiny lever to the side that Holly pushed down and released. Then she pulled on the box.


We checked the number, pushed down the lever, pulled….nothing. We reread the skeletal instructions: The key is in the lock box by the back gate. The code is—-. Then we repeated our unsuccessful formula, tugging harder and harder on the impregnable box.

Holly spied another lock box near the back door. We ran to it eagerly.

“I know how to work these!” announced Holly, entering our code. She tried coaxing and then switched to brute force as I looked longingly in the back door like a street urchin from a Dickens novel, tormented by the cottage’s warm interior as I jangled the handle rudely.

Then I exclaimed, “What about that ambulance station across the street? Maybe somebody there can help us!”

The station was deserted, the injured and ill abandoned to the hope that they could hang on until morning.

The time had come to accost the natives. I knocked at number 7. A skinny blond woman cracked the door and looked at us like we were escaped convicts, wild animals or poor circus performers.

I quickly explained our difficulty, and she pointed. “Number 8 knows everything,” she whimpered before slamming the door.

Already 9 p.m., I tried to knock quietly at number 8. The longer we waited, however, the louder I became. Three noisy teenagers came down the quiet street toward us, and I was certain that if Devizes had punks, these three were it. When one cheeky young man waved his hand toward our faces, sensing our discomfort, I said a curt, “Good evening,” with a smile so tight I almost swallowed my teeth.

No. 8 ignored us, and the punks swaggered on; back we went to try new incantations on the demon box.

“Maybe the numbers are out of order,” said Holly. “We need to try different combinations.”

“Yeah,” I rallied. “Maybe the owner’s dyslexic!”

We tried our hand at the obvious switches. Then we took turns desperately yanking on the lock box with both hands and scouting the tiny garden for the softest place to sleep.

Hysteria was creeping in. Forgetting we had no phone, I cried, “Isn’t there somebody we can call? Some emergency number here like a 911?”

Driven mad by failure, Holly shouted back at me, “Not for idiots!”

I doubled over in a fit of laughter that could have awakened no. 8 and made no. 7 pee her pants.

But I quickly sobered up. My rolling baggage thundered as we went down the stone passageway to the street. We gazed down its length. It was like the main drag in an old Western before a shoot-out; the locals were hiding.

Then a door down to the right opened, and out came an unsuspecting lady with a bag of trash. I pounced, and she jumped.

“We’re Americans!” I yelled. “We rented the cottage next door, but we can’t open the lock box, and our cell phones don’t work over here! Please, can you help us?”

“Come in,” she said. “I can’t keep the door open because of the cats.”

A small woman with short gray hair in disarray over her glasses, she introduced herself as Jane and offered me her phone, and I called the cottage owner. No answer. Then Jane brought over a lap top as old as me, warning that you had to keep it steady at a certain angle for the Internet to work. I fumbled with it as Holly tried the owner again.

As I began typing an email I could only pray would be seen by the cottage owner that night, I was shocked to hear Holly, New Jersey accent thick, say into the phone, “Hi, this is Hillary Eye-bar-uh. I rented the brewery cottage from you….”

Now I had called the owner, “Vernie,” two days earlier for access instructions, and I was absolutely certain that Holly and I sounded nothing alike, especially since she had just mispronounced my last name. But when Holly hung up and informed me that Vernie would text no. 8 to let us in, I quickly forgot our duplicity.

After thanking Jane, we went back out to try no. 8 again. We knocked and waited several minutes, but just like the Beatles song, there was no reply.

“We have to go back to Jane’s,” I lamented.

Lady Jane, as we would dub her, took us in.

“Nothing?” she asked. We shook our heads in dejection. “Can I get you some coffee?” she offered kindly. We nodded eagerly. Who cared about sleep if it was to be had in the metal garden chairs of your vacation rental? Better to remain alert to fend off punks and wererabbits!

Jane brought us coffee, and we decided to call Vernie again to our shame. This time I dialed.

“Hello, Vernie, this is Hillary E-barrrr- ah,” I said, rolling the r’s of my Hispanic last name. “No. 8 isn’t answering. We’ve tried the lock box several times, and it won’t open! What are we doing wrong?”

We repeated the code to each other, and then she said, “You just hold down that little lever and pull on the box.”

“At the same time?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Vernie. “Enter the code, press down the lever and pull on the front.”

“At the same time?”


“You push down the lever and pull on the lock box at the same time?”

“Yes!” Vernie cried with exasperation, “Look, Hillary, we’ve had that lock box all year, and we’ve never had a problem…”

“Does one of you want to go try it?” Jane asked when I hung up.

I was designated and rose to do my duty. I closed the door to number 4, walked sideways down the narrow alley that now felt decidedly sinister, and opened the garden gate, trying not to picture myself as the strange victim in some tiny village of an Agatha Christie mystery. I lined up the numbers of the code, held down the lever and pulled mightily.

I reentered number 4 holding up a large, old-fashioned key. Holly guffawed, relief and caffeine making her giddy.

I picked up my coffee, ready to decompress after an hour-and-a-half-long ordeal, and laughingly said to Jane, “You had to hold down the lever and pull! We just didn’t think of it!”

“Well,” said our gracious hostess. “I won’t keep you.”

Able to read simple social cues, we rose and thanked Lady Jane profusely.

Later, as I surveyed the darling living area of our cozy cottage with heightened appreciation and Holly scanned the guest book for mention of “lock box issues,” I abruptly began to laugh again.

“What?” inquired Holly.

“Vernie must think I have a split personality!” I cried.

Ah, well. Vernie will probably never hear from the New Jersey or Arizona “Hillary” ever again. Even if we did wish to rent that precious place a second time, I would be afraid to look it up now:

Because of the need for basic lock box skills, this accommodation not suitable for idiot Americans.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Making fun of the headlines,
so you don’t have to

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

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

U.S adds 223,000 jobs in June
Although most of those went to Republicans running for President.

Kim and Kanye announced they’re having a baby boy 
Or, as Kardasian kids are also known…a spinoff.

Soccer’s FIFA board corruption scandal widens
Ironically, they’re using their hands to scoop up all the money.

The number 1 bad habit you need to stop if you want to lose weight
Having pizza while reading articles about weight loss.

Happy World Naked Gardening Day
The perfect time for rakes and hoes to get together.

Bristol Palin was spokesperson for abstinence only birth control 
Look for Donald Trump to be named Ambassador to Mexico.

Kim Kardashian reveals a little too much about her underwear
Shocking. Kim Kardashian wears underwear?

Fox Host: Hillary Clinton ate at Chipotle for ‘Hispanic outreach’
Next, it’s Panda Express to reach out to the Asians.

A website ranks Mississippi as the sluttiest state
Guess you really can get lots of ‘S’ in Mississippi.

Is it ok to leave butter on the kitchen counter?
Since Marlon Brando died, yup.

Republican senator wants restaurant workers not to have to wash their hands after using the bathroom
That’s odd, because most politicians want to wash their hands of everything.

Miley Cyrus: I haven’t had only ‘straight or heterosexual’ relationships
Guess that makes her Bi-ley Cyrus.

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written standup material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in 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.


Reflections of Erma