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Landed at the wrong airport?
Imagining a PR response

Dan Zevin(Dan Zevin’s piece appeared in The New York Times on Jan. 30, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.)

A Southwest Airlines jet touched down at the wrong Missouri airport this month, a mix-up that comes two months after a cargo jet landed at the wrong airport in Kansas. How will the industry bounce back from the embarrassing publicity? Herewith, some suggestions for an emergency P.R. campaign.

1. Your Fitness Comes First.

Our award-winning pilots know what sitting on a plane can do to your spinal column, and that’s why we unveiled our heart-healthy Fly n’ Walk© program that not only gets you where you want to go, but also gets you in shape! Here’s how: On select flights, we’ll “go that extra mile” for you by landing the aircraft at an airport several miles away from the one on your boarding pass. After some gentle calisthenics, lace up your sneakers and follow our flight attendants on a brisk fitness walk to your original destination. Not only will you burn calories and work those tough-to-tone glutes, you’ll also receive bonus frequent flier points.

2. Safety. Our Promise to You.

Like fire drills or tests of the emergency broadcasting system, our Passenger Protection Preparation Procedures (PPPPs) include occasional unannounced — but 100 percent planned — landings at neighboring airports, or “safe havens.” Whether you’re flying to southwest Afghanistan, southwest Syria or southwest Missouri, these landings are completely 100 percent planned. It’s just that we make them look unplanned in order to simulate the unlikely event of an actual emergency landing. So relax! Your safety. Our planes. All planned.

3. Pay Less, See More.

How do we keep our fares so low? It’s simple. We have a vast network of partner airports that grant us last-minute deals on rock-bottom runway prices. And the more last-minute, the more savings we pass on to you. It’s all part of our “Pay Less, See More” initiative. More exciting destinations. More sizzling attractions. More surprising airports. After all, isn’t that what travel is truly about?

4. No Hidden Fees or Vendettas. Ever.

We pride ourselves on never engaging in New Jersey “Bridgegate”-style shenanigans. For example, if one of our co-pilots flying to, say, Branson, Mo., had a vendetta against his captain because his captain selected a pilot 10 years his junior for the plum flight to St. Croix that day, you can bet that this co-pilot would never, under any circumstances, have sent the following email to his buddy Mort in air-traffic control: “Time to land the plane at the wrong airport in Missouri!”

— Dan Zevin

Dan Zevin is the 2013 winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor.  His latest book, Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, along with his previous one, The Day I Turned Uncool, have been optioned by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. He has followed his readers through each phase of life, from post-college coping (Entry-Level Life) to tying the knot (The Nearly-wed Handbook) to developing a disturbing new interest in lawn care and wine tastings (Uncool). And that was all before he had kids.

Beware the binge-watching house

Greg Schwem(This piece by Greg Schwem first appeared in The Huffington Post on Jan. 8, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.) 

I’d heard rumors about the small, dilapidated single-family structure at the end of my street. During the housing bust it sat vacant, weeds and trash littering the porch and surrounding lot. But almost overnight, the abode sprang to life. Faint, bluish glows flickered in various windows; cars came and went at all hours; strange delivery trucks idled in the driveway. Occasionally a police car pulled up. Two officers would enter the premises and emerge with an occupant, radioing, “We found him,” to headquarters.

“Level with me,” I said to my cop friend Marv over beers one evening. What’s in there? Heroin? Meth? It’s a crack house, right?”

His eyes scanned the room and he lowered his voice. “It’s far worse.”

“What could be worse than having a shooting gallery in your neighborhood?”

“Take a ride with me,” Marv said. “But I could lose my job for this.”

I entered his unmarked vehicle and we parked in an alley behind the dwelling. We approached the front door cautiously.

“Should I be armed?” I asked. “Or at least wearing a vest?”

“Nah, you’ll be fine. Just don’t talk. Even a whisper is likely to get you hurt.”

The front door was unlocked. Marv opened it slowly.

“Oh my God,” were the only words I could muster.

From my vantage point, I counted at least seven flat screen televisions in various locations. Three were mounted to a single wall, giving the area the feel of a Vegas sports book. I recognized the characters from Breaking Bad on the 80-inch model. Below and to the left, a smaller plasma was tuned to Scandal. Bleary-eyed occupants desperately in need of food, sleep and hot showers were sprawled in anything that passed for seating. A dilapidated couch that screamed fraternity yard sale contained two middle-aged men and a twenty-something woman, eyes glazed yet affixed to the exploits of Walter White.

“I’ve seen this one,” I said. “A fly gets into the meth lab and…”

“SHUT UP DUDE!” came the reply from the woman.

“We haven’t seen it,” her companion added. “Make another sound and we will seriously mess you up.”

I glanced at Marv, who shrugged and arched his eyebrows, giving me his best, “I-warned-you” look. He gestured for me to meet him in the kitchen.

“What IS this place?” I said.

“It’s a binge watching house,’ he said. “These poor people man, they enter, they get a taste of Sons of Anarchy and they’re hooked.

“Why can’t they just watch these shows at home?” I asked.

“You don’t know anything about addiction, do you?” Marv said. “These people can’t just watch their show once a week. Oh sure, maybe they THINK they can, but it never works. They always want more. They’re on their third Homeland episode when their kids start whining about wanting to watch Dance Moms. So they come up with some lame excuse like ‘I’m just going to run to Target for a few things,’ and they end up here.

“Pardon me, old chap, but would you be so kind as to lower your volume? The other lads and I are having a most difficult time hearing the telly.”

“It’s the Downton Abbey addicts,” Marv said. “Much more polite than the Breaking Bad crew.”

“Who started this?” I said. “I mean, do you have any leads?”

“All of our sources point to the evil Netflix cartel,” Marv said. “They control about 80 percent of the country’s binge-watching activity. Oh sure, there are other players…Hulu Plus, CinemaNow, VUDU…but Netflix is ruthless. Sooner or later they crush everybody.”

A knock at the door interrupted our conversation. A gravelly voice exclaimed “Best Buy.”

“Jackson, we got another delivery,” said a 60-ish grandfather type, sprawled on a beach chair watching Mad Men.

A college-aged surfer dude, who I assumed was Jackson, rose from a beanbag chair. “Everybody hit ‘pause,’” he commanded.

The action on all the screens froze in unison. Jackson approached the delivery man.

“What do you got today?”

“A 50-inch Sony plasma, a TV stand and a Roku box. Sign here.”

“Put it in the basement,” Jackson commanded. “We’ve got a House of Cards gang coming in this afternoon and we’ll need the space.”

“Are we done? We’re done, right? We can press ‘play.’ Tell me we can press ‘play,’” came a hysterical plea near a TV where the characters from The Walking Dead were motionless.

“Yeah, everything’s cool again,” Jackson replied. “You know the drill. Let’s see some green.”

Carrying a Tupperware container, Jackson walked the room, stopping near each resident. Tens and twenties soon filled the container to overflow.
.
“Five bucks?” Jackson asked one bearded binge watcher. “Dude, you’ve been here since Arrested Development was available for live streaming.”

“Jackson, you know I’m good for it. Just let me finish Season 4.”

“You got ’til Friday,” Jackson replied and moved on.

“Who’s this Jackson guy?” I asked Marv.

“Don’t know much about him other than he used to be a Starbucks barista. But he rented this place, added the TVs and now these people pay him each time he signs up for another Netflix subscription. Sure it’s $7.99 a month, but we hear he’s charging $20 and pocketing the rest.”

“And they pay that?”

“You’d pay it, too, if you wanted to watch Orange is the New Black uninterrupted.”

“Can’t you arrest him?”

“For what?” Marv replied. “It ain’t illegal to watch TV.”

“But he’s ruining lives. “You said most of these people have families.”

Just then the door opened. “Donald are you here?”

The woman swept into the room, bypassing The FollowingBones and Weeds until she came to the Dexter couch.

“I warned you what would happen if I found you here again,” she said to a man I assumed was her husband.

“I promise you baby, this is the last episode. I got 15 more minutes and then I promise I’ll get clean. Now could you move? You’re blocking the screen.”

She turned on her heel. “My lawyer will be in touch.”

“It’s hideous,” Marv said. “And it’s only gonna get worse.”

“How so?”

Girls resumes this month.”

A chill ran down my spine.

— Greg Schwem

Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad. He writes a weekly nationally syndicated humor column for Tribune Media Services. Many of his columns appear in The Huffington Post.

10 reasons why I think my preschooler is in the CIA

Estelle Sobel ErasmusDear parents of preschoolers,

I’ve been dealing with this for a while, but I think it’s time to share my concern with the rest of you for your own good. So, here it is:

I believe my daughter’s preschool is some sort of top-secret early CIA program that parents are kept in the dark about.

And I don’t believe that I’m the only parent in this situation; I am just the tip of the iceberg.

I also believe that the kids have sworn an oath to secrecy as good citizens protecting our country and they take this responsibility very, very seriously.

Think about it parents: if you have enrolled your children in preschool full-time, they are in there for at least five to six hours a day! But what do you really know about what they are doing, except for seeing their pre-selected weekly pics, a few art projects, and hearing about the occasional party to throw us off track?

They are very clever, but I have figured it out. So, to prove I’m neither crazy nor delusional — and neither are you fellow silent sufferers. Here are my top reasons why I think my preschooler is in some sort of top-secret government CIA program.

1) They Do “Stuff”

I recently asked my 3-year-old daughter about her day at school and here is a synopsis of our conversation:

Me: “So what did you do at preschool today?”

Her: “We did lots of stuff and then we did more stuff.”

Me: Um, OK.

Stuff, stuff and more stuff. It’s just what they do. My daughter’s vocabulary normally includes words like actually, think, happy and love. She is clearly a purist with a preference for using the word ‘stuff’ when it comes to describing her day, coupled with a matter-of-fact expression that further serves to thwart me (her intention I believe).

I even bowed to the assumed wisdom of one (possibly brainwashed) parent with older children, who admonished me that I was not asking specific questions, such as, “Did you paint today?”

Dutifully, I asked my daughter that and got a slightly pitying look from her and a resounding — wait for it — head shake, no.

2) She’s Sworn to a Code of Silence

It’s as if their school’s theme song is the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed.”

Whatever I say or do, I’m unable to get any specifics from her about her school experiences.

For example, ask me about my day, and I won’t shut up. You’ll get tons of details. Just ask my husband. Her, not so much. Not right away anyway.

3) Photos are Verboten

I receive photos of her from the school each week, but for some reason, known only to them, all the photos show her with her eyes cast down or averted from the camera, as if she is hiding something.

Very suspect. Because. She. Never. Looks. Directly. Into. The. Camera.

4) Circle Time is Code for “Bad Behavior Explored”

I have a theory that circle time is when the kids get instructions to test the moral fibers of their parents, determine our reactions and assess our empathy levels. They do this by exploring scenarios of unacceptable behavior and gauging our responses.

For example, I asked my daughter about circle time yesterday. She paused, in her relentless goal of watching as many episodes of “Dora the Explorer on Demand” as she can before going to bed, furrowed her little face and then proceeded to deflect like the true professional she is.

“Somebody ripped the book, and it was ruined,” she told me, solemnly reporting this reading-related incident. Another friend told me that her daughter reported a stolen Elmo juice box intrigue.

Undaunted, I tried again yesterday.

Me: “What did you do in circle time today?”

Her: “Bob (name changed to protect the maybe not so innocent) cried.”

Me: “During circle time?”  Thinking to myself: I know this boy, and he seems a hardy type.

Her: “Yes.”

Me: “Why did he cry?”

Her: “I think he missed his mommy.”

Repeated plaintively, head cocked, staring me down. “He missed his mommy!”

Very interesting. She threw in deflection and added in a heap of mommy guilt for good measure just to throw me further off the track.

Well played, daughter. Well played.

5) Are Legos Legit?

Indulge me and ponder the concept of LEGOs for a moment. They are in every preschool. For what purpose? Why/what do children need to build so bad, and who needs them to build it? Is there a secret LEGO building factory that they are a part of?

Ask yourself that question. I do.

6) I Believe She Has a Double

According to her teachers, my daughter is a true gem:  polite, helpful, very sociable and shows lots of empathy for other kids.

Obviously, she has a double acting on her behalf during the day. How else to explain the tantrum I’ve deemed the “I Want More Goldfish Crackers Caper” when she went crazy for an HOUR AND A HALF over her overwhelming need for This. One. Specific. Food. A demand that she repeated over and over in an endless litany that felt as long as my pregnancy was.

She had clearly honed this skill somewhere and was now testing it on me. It was the kid equivalent of Chinese water torture — or water boarding. Behavior that was designed to make me, um, crackers.

7) Unexplainable Stains On Her Clothes 

One day it is an orange stain that confounds me.

“Did you paint with orange today?” I ask her.

“No,” she replies, “I used green.”‘

“Green?” I asked tentatively. “I don’t see anything green. Did one of the kids use orange paint?”

“No. Mommy. No. Orange. Paint,” she yells back.

“Did you get an orange as a snack?”

“No.”

And so it goes. Confusing me and making me question my very sanity.

8) Snack Time Syndrome

There is one bright spot for me in all this. My daughter is great at talking about what she ate at snack time. That’s why I’ve figured out the code for it. The code for snack time is, “you’ve got to give the grownups something or they’ll break.”

One friend says, “If I ask over and over, I can often get a result about snack of the day. But that’s it.”

Hard to believe. Although she is out of the house for hours, the only “nugget” of info (or Intel) she can provide is about snack time. Usually it’s to tell me that she didn’t like what I provided.

“No more yogurt, mommy.”

“But you used to like yogurt, honey.”

“Mommy. Mommy. You need to be a good listener. No. More. Yogurt.”

At least she’s sharing info about something, I tell myself.

But, what I “get” often adds to the mystery.

9) All Thoughts Dora Aside, They Still Can’t Relinquish Their Backpacks

The backpacks must have top-secret information. My daughter won’t let it leave her body not even when she gets in the car. When we get home, she empties it out first (probably checking that no confidential documents have been stashed where I can get access to them), after which she keeps it arm’s length away from her for the rest of the day.

10)  They Carry Nuts or Peanut Items as a Weapon

My daughter goes to a nut-free school. Why then, every morning, do I have to wrestle some peanut-containing granola bar or breakfast bar, or cereal container out of her hands? A fight that does not go easily until I manage to grab the dangerous item. Why then, oh why, do I see her in the back of the car, with a tiny piece of the food “weapon” still in her hand, or sometimes even secreted away in her mouth? Why is she so determined to hang on to the toxic-to-other-kids morsel? For what nefarious reasons does she need to protect herself?

And let me leave you with one last thought. Nap Time?

Does your child EVER nap at home? No, I didn’t think so. I know mine stopped hers more than eight months ago. So why only in school? And what makes them so agreeable to do it?

You mean to tell me that the child, who fights her bedtime routine tooth and nail, simply says ok, and goes right to sleep when told by the teacher? What mind-control sessions are occurring during this so called nap time?

That’s the next conspiracy I plan to uncover. Who’s with me?

— Estelle Sobel Erasmus

Estelle Sobel Erasmus is an award-winning journalist and former magazine editor-in-chief who blogs about her sometimes serious, often humorous but always transformative journey through motherhood, marriage and midlife at Musings on Motherhood and Midlife. She was recently the featured blogger at She Speaks. Her writing was recently featured in the anthology, What Do Mothers Need? Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak Out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century (Demeter Press, 2013). She is a 2012 BlogHer Voice of the Year, a Circle of Moms Top 25 Winner for Best Family Blog by a Mom and a proud “Listen to Your Mother” NYC alumni.  You can find her writing at Kveller.com, Weightwatchers.com and WorkingMother.com. Estelle also can be found on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthing no book, Miss Scarlett

Jody-Pic21-230x145(All rights reserved for therapy)

First you think, “This can’t be happening to me. There is no way I can write a book.  I’m too old. I’m at the end of my career not at the beginning. I’m not into social media and the only agent I know is 007.”

But the tests are positive. People laughed at your first essays. You are definitely writing a book whether you want to or not.

Then the morning sickness. Or, in my case, late night sickness, begins. You sit staring at the blank screen of your laptop, and not a single idea is forthcoming. You try crackers, chocolate, pickles, red wine but nothing eases that queasy feeling. Your fingers hang frozen over the keyboard.  You start talking to yourself.

“What if I never think of another single word to write?”

“What if I don’t know how to write funny anymore?”

“What if I never knew how to write funny?”

This is followed by a quick run to the bathroom.  Crackers, chocolate, pickles and red wine are not a good combination no matter how you arrange them on your plate or your laptop.

The next several months are a roller coaster of emotions. You sit at the computer for hours laughing as you write page after page only to reread it the next day and burst into tears at the drivel you have splattered across the page. Your eyes roll back in your head and you screech at the Geek Squad when they tell you it will be a few days before they can dry out your keyboard.

After months, the big day arrives.  You have edited, revised and rearranged. You have laughed, cried, thrown fits and grown fat from lack of exercise. You have “saved to” six flash drives and I-Cloud, and printed out a hard copy. Your book has been safe and secure in an electronic file all these months. You have selected a publisher. It is time to hit “Send.”

Send?   You scream, “I’ve changed my mind.  I don’t care what anybody says, I am not publishing this book. Who said this was funny? Am I laughing? It’s all your fault. I never said I wanted to write a book. No! No! No!  I’m going to wait and write another chapter. I’m not ready to be an AUTHOR!”

But the book is ready. It is time.

You hit “send.” You don’t laugh. You don’t cry. You sit and stare at the screen.

Later, when the publisher brings you the box, you look at it like it is some kind of alien being. You open the box and take out the book. You aren’t excited. You are empty, devoid of emotion. You are depressed.

“It’s small. I thought it would be bigger. The cover is dark. It’s not doing anything. It’s just sitting there.”

“The book can’t do anything without you. You have to market the book. You have to become a super salesman. You have to go on virtual book tours. You have to do everything.”

“But I don’t want to do everything. I want Agent 007 to do everything. Can’t I unpublish it?  I don’t want strangers looking at my book. It’s mine. I wrote it.”

“You are suffering from postpartum publication. The best remedy is to start on your next book.”

“Hmmm, I do have an idea for a murder mystery based on a publisher who…”

— Jody Worsham

At age 61, when Jody Worsham became the mother of a 1-day-old baby and a 3-year-old, she found writing humor was cheaper than therapy, legal, no hangover, and it didn’t matter if Medicare covered it or not.

Strong passwords, strong language

Amy ShermanPasswords suck. Everybody knows it. And despite all my efforts to create clever and singularly unique ones, the best of mine can be cracked in 0.059 seconds. Less than a SECOND!

Go ahead, give one of yours a try here.

Certain sites grade them for you and reject the ones that are too easy to crack. So you keep adding numbers, symbols and gibberish until you can make no sense of it, let alone retain it beyond the time it takes to hit “enter.” And every website has different parameters preventing you from ever reusing a password you recklessly store on your computer because you have sullenly accepted the fact your idiot brain will never retain it.

Laughing in the face of cyber danger, I tried saving the exponentially growing list of my incomprehensible passwords, but I couldn’t remember the code word I used to label the top-secret, classified file. Hiding passwords on a computer is more difficult than hiding porn. FYI, my porn collection is filed under my blog URL. Site Stats assure me nobody ever wants to go there.

I even considered having the passwords tattooed onto some hidden skin, but soon realized, the list was becoming so massive, I’d be reduced to wearing a burka to conceal it. Even translating the list into Chinese characters to conserve space, is problematic. I can’t trust some full-sleeved, Midwest-suburban tattoo artist with a pierced taint to be fluent in Chinese script. My favorite password, “wannabewriter” might become “pigshitinwok” for all I know.

We are now forced to try and outthink a computer program that can race through combinations at the speed of light. Passwords have become the new grawlix or profanitype. At least that’s what they look like to be considered secure. f*C3@@u!!#again?

Coincidence? I think not.

I finally came up with the perfect solution. I can’t say I actually came up with the idea so much as it simply became the norm. Whatever site I go to, I simply click on “Forgot Your Password?” and make a new one. It takes less time waiting for the email to create a new one, making said new word, and finally signing in successfully, than it does cursing like an upper-middle-class-teenage-girl and breaking into a flop sweat while audibly praying “this one has to be it.”

I see my new approach as a great way to stay one step ahead of the unknown hacker/villain/sniper program that wants to gather my painfully boring personal information, steal my lackluster identity and run off with the millions of dollars I have hidden away in a secret account so secret, even I don’t know how to find it.

The best part? I can crack my own password in under 45 seconds and that is f’%@@#’n good enough for me.

— Amy Hartl Sherman

Amy Hartl Sherman is a freelance writer, poet and humorist. She is a graduate of  the University of Illinois with B.S. in communications, which couldn’t be more accurate. A retired flight attendant, former improv comedian, empty-nester and overall wunderkind, Amy writes erratically as opposed to erotically, and sometimes humorously, while living with her husband, a Chihuahua, a barking parakeet who is minus one toe, and one toe-eating Dachshund. Her sons escaped without harm. Amy has been published in Modern Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, and It All Changed in an Instant: More Six Word Memoirs.

Say it ain’t snow!

Jerry Zezima(This piece by Jerry Zezima appeared in the Stamford Advocate on Jan. 31, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.)

Because I am a flake, and have been perpetrating snow jobs my whole life, I appreciate the wonders of winter.

The two things I wonder most about winter are: Why do some people throw away their snow shovels every year and have to buy new ones? And why do these same people go to the supermarket when a snowstorm is forecast to buy bread and milk when they never eat and drink those things when it doesn’t snow?

I got some insight before a recent snowstorm from Chris, who works at a nearby home improvement store.

“Do you have a snow blower?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “but it doesn’t work. It did work until we had a blizzard a few years ago, then it conked out. When I had it tuned up the following year, we didn’t have any snow. Last year it worked fine. Now it’s on the fritz again.”

“Do you have gas?” Chris asked.

“You’re getting a little personal, don’t you think?” I said.

“I mean, did you put fresh gas in your snow blower?” Chris clarified. “Stale gas left over from last year can cause it to stall. You have to mix the new gas with oil.”

“Do you have a snow blower?” I inquired.

“No,” Chris admitted. “I have a 2-year-old, and it was either buy a snow blower or pay for day care. So I bought a manual snow blower.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A shovel,” Chris responded.

“How come, whenever it snows, people rush to a store like this to buy shovels?” I wondered. “Do they throw their snow shovels away at the end of winter and have to get new ones the following year?”

“I think they keep their shovels, but they put them in the shed and can’t find them the next time it snows,” Chris theorized. “The shovels move to the back of the shed and hide. Sometimes it happens in the garage. I think they have a union, and they have meetings where they decide how to outwit their owners and drive them crazy. The humans can’t find the snow shovels, so they come here to buy new ones. It is,” Chris added with a smile, “good for business.”

At this moment, my wife, Sue, came by.

“There you are,” she said to me. “I couldn’t find him,” Sue said to Chris. “He’s always getting lost.”

“I can’t help you there,” said Chris. “But husbands are often told to get lost, so we’re just following orders.”

“We should buy a snow shovel,” said Sue.

“We already have one,” I noted.

“Do you know where it is?” Chris asked me.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s in the garage. I wedged it against the door so it couldn’t hide.”

Sue said we should get a second shovel. Then she said we should hurry up because she had to go to the supermarket to pick up some groceries before the snow started to fall.

“I hope you don’t mean bread and milk,” I said.

“No,” Sue said. “We already have them.”

“Why,” I asked Chris, “do some people always rush out to buy bread and milk before it snows? If you go to their houses on a nice summer day, you’ll never find them sitting at the kitchen table, eating bread and drinking milk.”

“I don’t know,” said Chris. “I would think that before it snows, you’d want to buy beer. Or at least hot chocolate.”

“Thanks for your help,” I said to Chris before we headed for the checkout counter.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. “Make sure you put your new shovel in a place where it can’t get away. And don’t get lost yourself. After all, you’re the one who’ll have to get rid of the snow.”

— 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 Newsday and the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, The Empty Nest Chronicles and Leave it to Boomer. 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. He was a semi-finalist in the 2013 Robert Benchley Society Humor Writing Competition.

Obsessive execution disorder

EBWW- Norine Dworkin-McDanielBack when my son was in kindergarten, he’d come home every so often with an assignment to put together a poster presentation on a country in whatever part of the world his class was studying at the moment.

And naturally, given that my then 4-year-old thought “baby sounds” not “search engine” when he heard the word Google, and since he had yet to master even the hunt-n-peck approach to typing on a keyboard, his homework assignments became my homework assignments. That year, I learned an awful lot about Japan, Egypt, Chile and Spain.

(Did you know Spain produces 44 percent of the world’s olives??? Fascinating, right?)

Still, it wasn’t like my kid had been asked to do a PowerPoint presentation on Spain’s debt crisis (good thing because I’d have been completely useless there). Poster presentations are fairly easy, drawing on those essential kindergarten skills: cutting, pasting, scrawling with crayon. So even though I was some 40 years removed from kindergarten, I had some inkling of what the end product should look like.

With our very first poster project, we spent the day Googling pictures of Spain’s geography, architecture, food and culture. Or rather, to be more precise, we spent 24 hours in 10-minute increments over many, many days because that is the average attention span of a kindergartener who is not playing Hill Climb on your iPad. Because if the project was to play Hill Climb on the iPad, he’d have the whole damn thing knocked out in five minutes. But since teachers, even kindergarten teachers, do not send kids home with instructions to play Hill Climb on the iPad and then report back, it will take approximately three weeks to do a poster project that would take the average adult about 20 minutes to assemble. And that’s if there’s a paper jam … and you need to run to Staples for more ink cartridges … and the Staples is 10 minutes away … and you get a flat tire en route.

Being that the kid was (hello??) four and had never put together a poster presentation before, and because I have a black belt in perfectionism, the trick in pulling together this poster project would be to gently guide my child in the process of cutting out the images and gently make suggestions about how they might be artfully arranged on the poster board … without shoving him out of the way and slapping the whole thing together myself.

I wanted him to do it by himself. And I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to be the best damn poster presentation on Spain the kindergarten teacher had ever seen. I wanted him to do a GOOD project BY HIMSELF. (You’re probably beginning to see the enormous sinkhole threatening to open up right under this precarious situation.)

“HE needs to do it! Let HIM do it!” I scolded my husband when the poor man attempted to position some of the images on the poster himself. My husband then slunk off to clean the pool filter, something he knew he would not get yelled at for doing, because I have no idea how to clean the pool filter and would never think of cleaning the pool filter anyway.

But then it was me hovering, micromanaging the project, basically doing exactly what I’d just chided my husband for doing. Yes, I wanted my kid to do it by himself. I just wanted him to do it by himself MY WAY. (Did somebody say … sinkhole?)

“Here, Sweet Pea, let me show you …” I started, trying to be helpful … and move the project forward.

But, alas, by this time, my son had reached the end of his four-year-old attention span. I couldn’t blame him. I was so tired of sitting and watching him cut out the images to paste on the poster board — because a 4-year-old will only cut out images if you remain sitting right next to him at all times  — that by the time we reached the actual arranging and pasting stage of the project, I would have willingly spent the rest of the afternoon watching episodes of Thomas The Tank Engine (the most inane children’s show this side of Barney) if we could just, for the love of Pete, wrap this up already. But while I couldn’t budge him forward, I also couldn’t walk away either. While my kid clearly didn’t want to work on the project anymore … he still refused any and all entreaties to give it a rest.

“Okay, Sweet Pea,” I say, forcibly swallowing my annoyance. “How about you try it this way…”

But every attempt to demonstrate how he might organize the material was met with resistance. There really is no stubbornness like four-year-old stubbornness. He was young enough to outlast me … and old enough to know he was driving me bat-shit crazy doing it. He pouted that he didn’t know what to do … then insisted that he didn’t want my suggestions either. In an act of supreme frustration he swept all the photos that had been laid out on the poster into a pile on the floor.

I thought back to the teacher telling me this would be a fun project … and wondered what she’d been growing in her garden and smoking.

There was no fun. What there was was prodding. There was cajoling. There was bargaining. There was angst. And anger. There were tears. There was yelling. “JUST GLUE THE PICTURES ON AND BE DONE WITH IT!!” It is possible that scissors were thrown. (Safety scissors … more like dropped … with a great deal of force … still, definitely not my proudest moment.)

But eventually, every picture was stuck on the foam-board in some manner, and there was crayon scrawl beneath, identifying what each photo was. It was … a mess. It looked exactly like a four-year-old did it: crooked pictures; jagged cutouts; illegible crayon scribbles.

Walking into school the next morning, I caught another mom carrying her kid’s poster into the classroom. It was a poster about Holland. And it was beautiful. I stopped her just so I could admire it. There were photos from a family trip arranged, just … so. A candy wrapper from a bar of Dutch chocolate. Postcards of windmills. Pictures of tulips. It was a work of art.

For a moment, I had an ugly flash of poster envy. Now why didn’t my kid’s poster look like THAT?!? This was gorgeous. So tidy. So perfect. So … oh! I really can be a little slow on the uptake, especially before I’ve finished my first gallon of coffee. And then I realized: It was so perfect, it was highly unlikely that her kid had had any part in its assembly. Maybe he’d had some buy-in on the concept. Maybe he’d chosen the country. But Mom had done the heavy lifting and curating and pasting. And it showed.

I looked at my kid’s poster again. It looked exactly like a 4-year-old had done it. And it made me proud.

- Norine Dworkin-McDaniel

Norine Dworkin-McDaniel is the co-creator of Science of Parenthood and serves as its Chief of Scientific Snarkiness. When she’s not blogging about the mysteries of parenting a 7-year-old, she writes on health, parenting and relationships. Her work has been published in Health, More, Lifescript, Redbook, Prevention, Shape, iVillage and Parents. Meanwhile, you can catch all the science-y goodness each week with a free blog subscription and follow Science of Parenthood on Twitter and Facebook.

New city, no friends

JoEllen RedlingshaferI drove up to Los Angeles land in my convertible (Toyota Corolla), a few suitcases in the trunk (a ton of crap and even more empty Doritos bags) with my hair perfectly straightened (hadn’t been washed in days) wearing Seven Jeans and a trendy tank top (baggy sweats, an oversized T-shirt, no bra).

Whoa (holy sh*t), I thought, I am actually here! Time to conquer this bitch… but first, In N Out Burger must be annihilated.

As glamorous as Los Angeles is, I will be living the life of a slum until I make it big as Lane Bryant’s next cover model. I’m sharing a one-bedroom apartment with a fabulous roommate, Tara. Unfortunately Tara doesn’t get here for a couple of more weeks, so, in the meantime, I’m on my own.

This brings me to a problem. Friends.

So far, I’ve made a few good friends. My best friend in LA would have to be Ernesto, the lovely man I hired off Craigslist to move my refrigerator into my apartment. The moment I saw Ernesto, or E as I call him (inside joke), I knew we would be instant friends. We spent an exciting two hours together sweating our butts off trying to figure out how to get a big @$$ fridge through a small @$$ doorway. Miss him already!

Another friend is the guy who lives across the hall. He came over to introduce himself, and right away we hit it off. He was shirtless, jacked, covered in tats, reeked of hair gel and seems like an all-around class act. He asked me if I wanted to work out with him, so that should be good. Excited to get to know him better!

I’d say my last close friend I’ve made here is the homeless guy down the street. I pass him on my run everyday, and he always gives me words of encouragement, like, “Move it, fatty!” and “Damn girl, you got enough jiggle for the both of us!” At first I was offended, but then I realized that tough love is still love. So I appreciate his harsh words; he is just trying to motivate me to become a better person! Love him like a brother!

So as you can see, I’ve got a pretty solid group. But, as usual, men constantly surround me. I need some girl time to have pillow fights, paint nails, drink wine spritzers and try new versions of “cat eyes” with our eye liners.

How do you make girl friends? I mean in college it was so easy because everyone was in the same boat, but now it’s more stressful than waiting to not be asked to Homecoming in high school. Where do I meet girls? How do I initiate the conversation? Do I ask for her number? How do we schedule a time to hang out? Like on a girl date? Drinks?

This is all starting to sound super lezzy…which is a whole other issue because if I start talking to a girl trying to make friends, will she think I’m hitting on her? Oh, God. Better not even try. Probably better that way.

So, for now, I will continue to bond with the guy from apartment 123, the homeless guy, and I may hire Ernesto to come back and help me move something, just for the company.

Any girls reading this who currently live in LA, call me. Or don’t, you don’t have to. You could also text. Or email me. I have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, too. Also considering putting an ad up on Craigslist, so you can check for that. Or whatever…

But yeah I’m straight, just FYI. But it’s cool if you’re not; no judgment here. I’m fun, I promise. Not needy at all. Ok. Call me.

— JoEllen Redlingshafer

JoEllen Redlingshafer, a 2013 University of Dayton graduate, recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a television writer. She’s a production assistant for an upcoming FOX television show and, in her free time, works on spec and original television scripts. She blogs at A little slice of JoHeaven.

Reflections of Erma