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A canary in the coal mine of fashion

Con ChapmanI have an unerring eye for fashion, if I do say so myself. Which I just did.

If you want to know what’s “happening” in men’s fashion, look at me.

Then wear something else.

I’m like the canaries that coal miners take down into mine shafts to detect poisonous gases. The little birds have such sensitive lungs that when they keel over, the humans know they’ll be in trouble soon.

So when you see me wearing, for example, pleated pants, you need to run, not walk, to the nearest clothing store to buy a pair of plain fronts.

Whither I goest, fashion doth not follow. To put it as Webster’s Dictionary might, fashion is what I’m not wearing. If you see me wearing epaulets — don’t.

I mention this because of an article I stumbled across in The Wall Street Journal to the effect that fashionable men have started to wear their pants high off their ankles, a la Pee-wee Herman. The style has come to be known as “floods.” In order to secure my rightful place in the history of fashion, allow me to describe my role in this tectonic shift in haberdashery’s foundations.

For many years I resisted the so-called “European” hemline for pants, which uses excess fabric to form a slight drape over the shoe. I took grief for this from family members, both biological and marital. I didn’t care. With all the fabric I saved manufacturers, you could have clothed an Eskimo village.

From my point of view, the extra-long pant leg revealed not fashion, but insecurity. The style seemed to be most pronounced among used-car salesmen, maitre’d’s of overpriced restaurants and real estate developers looking to make a fortune using other people’s money.

The “high-water” look, by contrast, was a mark of the old-line Yankees of New England who wore their pants that way on the off chance that they’d see a snowy egret on their way into work, and would be prepared to get off the train and traipse into a marsh to get a better view of it. These men didn’t care about fashion because they didn’t need to impress anybody.

The turning point for me came when I was in an inner-city McDonald’s buying hamburgers for students at a school where I volunteered, and overheard a stage-whispered conversation by three girls that, I came to understand, was intended for my ears.

“Is it raining outside?” one asked.

“Is there a flood coming?” another said.

“Maybe a levee broke somewhere,” the third said.

I looked at them, noticed them giggling, then looked down at my pants. They were a little high.

It is one thing to endure criticism from your wife or your older sister — you know they’ve got it in for you. But when unknown teenage girls start to laugh at you, it is time for a serious reappraisal of the fashion choices you have made.

I decided, after a long, dark night of soul-searching, that perhaps I’d been wrong. Maybe longer pant legs weren’t so bad. Who was I to buck a fashion trend that had been adopted by millions of men at the behest of sophisticated European designers? “Get down off your high horse,” I said to myself, and “Who died and left you boss?” Also “Get with the program.”

I slowly began to replace my high-water pants with the longer-legged style, and eventually joined the community of right-thinking men who realize that it’s just plain wrong to show your ankles in public.

Unless, of course, you want to be fashionable.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

Running hot and cold

Jerry ZezimaAs a guy who is usually in hot water, which I am using as an excuse for all my wrinkles, I recently found myself in the unusual situation of being in hot water because there was no hot water.

Actually, there was hot water, but it left me cold because it was dripping out of the faucet in an upstairs bathroom. To prevent the American equivalent of Chinese water torture from keeping me awake at night and driving me even crazier than I already am, I had to open the vanity door and stick my empty head under the sink, an area so small that a Chihuahua would have felt claustrophobic, so I could turn off the hot water.

When I wanted to shave, I had to reverse the process. Then I reversed it again so the water bill wouldn’t rival the gross national product of Finland.

This went on for months. Finally, at the strong suggestion of my wife, Sue, who doesn’t even shave, I was faced with two choices: fix the problem or grow a beard.

Because I didn’t want to look like Presidents Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield, both of whom were shot to death, I decided to go with Choice No. 1.

This entailed disassembling the faucet so I could change the washer. Inasmuch as I am the least handy man in America, visions of Niagara Falls flooded my brain, which has water on it anyway.

I sought the wise counsel of Frank and Jerry, two ace maintenance guys at work.

“Make sure,” Frank advised, “that you turn off the water or you’ll have an indoor swimming pool.”

“Maybe,” Jerry added, “you should wear a bathing suit.”

“How do I get the cap off the hot-water spigot?” I asked.

“Use a screwdriver,” Frank answered.

“You mean vodka and orange juice?” I wondered.

“Whatever works,” Jerry said.

I also talked with Gary, a talented colleague who used to write a home-improvement column. He printed out instructions with an illustration of the sink’s parts, including the handle seat, the gasket and, of course, the washer. The whole thing looked like the battle plans for the invasion of Normandy.

“There’s a tool for taking the faucet apart,” Gary said.

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s called a jackhammer. All I want to do is change the washer. Do I have to buy a new house?”

“Go on YouTube,” Gary said, “and watch a video. It will show you how to do it.”

So I did. The two-minute video, “How to Replace a Washer in a Leaky Faucet for Dummies,” will never win an Oscar, but it was clearly aimed at me. And it was pretty instructive.

I used my smartphone, which has a dumb owner, to take a picture of the faucet. Then I went to Home Depot for further assistance.

I got it from Charlie, who is so knowledgeable that he coaches new recruits at the store. He assured me that I am not as incompetent as I think I am.

“My uncle was worse,” Charlie said. “He was a brilliant lawyer who became a judge, but he couldn’t change a light bulb. He eventually went blind, which didn’t help.”

Charlie informed me that my faucet doesn’t have washers.

“You have to remove the nut,” he said.

“That would be me,” I countered.

“And,” Charlie continued, “replace the cartridge.”

“Do I have to use dynamite?” I asked.

“No,” Charlie said. “A wrench will do. But turn off the water first.”

“Even I know that,” I said.

I bought a replacement cartridge, went home, turned off the water under the bathroom sink and, much to my amazement (and Sue’s), fixed the problem.

“Nice job,” Sue said. “And we didn’t even have to call a plumber.”

Unfortunately, now something’s wrong with the kitchen faucet. Looks like I’m in hot water again.

— 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 five 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.

Sleepovers and labor pains

Anne BardsleyIf you are a parent, there will come a time in your life when your daughter will sweetly ask, “Can I have a sleepover?” I’m using your daughter for this example because 89 percent of all sleepovers are with girls. I know it’s true. I Googled it.

Your first thought may be pure delight. Your child has friends and she wants them to stay overnight at your house. (Does that mean you are the cool mom?) You might even shed a tear. Well, wipe that tear away right now and batten down the hatches! As a mom who survived five kids and hundreds of sleepovers, I am here to offer some expert advice.

Forget about buying healthy food. You can spend $80 on granola mix, fruit, veggie dips, low-fat potato chips and no-salt pretzels, etc. These girls only want pizza, real chips, ice cream, gummy bears, licorice and extra-butter popcorn. Mental note for your sanity: Never buy graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate. They will attempt to build a campfire in your yard at 3 a.m. to make S’mores. If you must, buy marshmallows in a jar and let them microwave a snack. The fire marshall will thank you.

The most important thing is to keep the number of kids to an even number. I don’t care if it’s two, four, six or eight. And truthfully, if it’s six or eight, you probably should be in a mental ward. If you have an odd number, there is an unwritten rule that at 2 a.m. someone will feel left out and have hurt feelings. That child will cry loudly, very loudly, until you call her parents to take her home.

It’s always the dad who fetches the sobbing night owl. By the time he arrives at the door, the girls will be lining up like soldiers to hug, squeeze and tell Suzy they love her. For the past hour they bickered, but now in the darkness there is a Kumbaya moment. At this point, there will be an hour discussion about whether Suzy really wants to leave. It’s all very dramatic. “Please don’t go! We’ll miss you!” Sometimes the other girls even cry saying it. The mood will shift and Suzy will decide to stay. You and Suzy’s dad will bond while you apologize that you had to wake him to drive 20 minutes for nothing.

There should be parent’s code where we swear never to tell a soul how either parent looks at “the “fetching hour” of the night. This is another reason why you should be very careful about your daughter’s sleepover choices. Stay away from the girls with hoity-toity parents. You don’t want them gossiping about your scary self. You might remember Suzi’s dad as a handsome man: clean-shaven with bright blue eyes. That’s his daytime look. At “the fetching hour” he looks like Fred Flintstone. I could only hope he didn’t mention to anyone that I looked as if I’d been electrocuted. I look like a mad woman when I don’t get my sleep.

Just after you tuck each child in and say good night (morning), your daughter will remember the popcorn and ice cream downstairs. You will hear what sounds like a herd of centipedes running down the stairs as your head hits the pillow. Your husband will sleep through all of this, so be sure to make mental notes. He’ll love to hear all about it in the morning.

There is usually an array of talent in the sleepover group: a gymnast, a dancer, a singer and a baton twirler, if you’re lucky. After ice cream with sprinkles and whipped cream, these talents come to life at 4 a.m. Music will fill your house. No, really, music will FILL your house. Dance lessons will ensue as they learn new shake moves in their jammies. The gymnast is always a winner because she uses your sofa top as a balance beam while she shimmies. And let’s not forget the singer, who is really not a singer in the darkness of the night. After a gallon of coffee and after the sun has risen, I might enjoy her rendition of “I’m Too Sexy for My Shorts.” Maybe not.

The girls who thought you were the sweetest of all the moms will now change their minds after you swoop into the family room looking like a flying monkey from “The Wizard of Oz” and scream, “Go the hell to SLEEP! Stop singing, balancing and dancing and for the love of God; my broom is not a baton!” It is very important that you watch your language here. If you slip and use a curse word, it will go down in history. The moment their parents ask, “Did you have fun at your sleepover?” they will rat you out. I used to ask if the other parents cursed at three in the morning so I didn’t feel alone.

Unlike after popping out that baby and having breakfast delivered to your hospital room, you now have to get back into the kitchen. The breakfast menu request is usually pancakes. Try to stay awake while flipping on a hot grill. They will all be wide awake and chatting about how cute Suzy’s dad is and how he’s so nice. They will not say that about you. The only thing they might say is, “You make good pancakes. Do you have chocolate chips?”

Within two hours, all of the girls will be gone. You and your child will go back to bed and be unable to sleep. She will want to chat about how happy she is that they were all at her house. As you doze off, you might hear her ask, “Can we do it again next Saturday night?” And if you’re really tired, you might dream that you said, “Yes. It was so much fun!”

Sleepovers are one of those things like labor. When you’re going through it, labor is hell. When the baby arrives, you forget the pain until you have another baby. The memories will rush back with each contraction.

As you regain your lost sleep, you will weaken and there will be a group of little people with sleeping bags and backpacks at your door once again, and again, and again.

And when those days are over, you won’t really remember the labor-like pains, you’ll smile at the memory of Fred Flintstone (Suzy’s dad), the broom baton, “I’m Too Sexy for My Shorts” and those little centipede legs running down the stairs in the middle of the night.

Trust me — you don’t want to miss this!

— 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.

The interrupted Target breakdown

Nicole Lawson Miles “Excuse me; may I take care of that for you?”

She leaned in closer, her face uncomfortably close to mine. I was so stunned, frustrated and embarrassed I could not find the words to accept her offer. I stood there looking back into her eyes for a moment. She searched my face with so much compassion. After what seemed like one hell of a day, I just stood there speechless.

It all started with the morning phone call that I couldn’t quite take. This particular friend and I don’t get to see each other or talk much, so I was eager to take the call. My toddlers had just awakened and were quietly playing in their room. I thought, “Yes! I can ACTUALLY answer my phone and have a quality conversation without interruption!” That lasted for about 30 seconds. After I said the words, “good morning,” Maddy and Kaiden decided to commence in a WWE match that somehow landed in my bedroom and loudly at my feet! I watched my hopes of sharing a nice moment with a dear friend fade away as I promptly ended the call just as quickly as it began and simultaneously placed myself in referee mode. “That’s enough! Give me the toy if you’re not going to share. Separate!” I knew then that my day was not going to look ANYTHING like my agenda.

Fast forward to right after breakfast, and, as I sat down to fold my mountain of laundry, I received another phone call. My new lawn guy needed to bring an unexpected guest with him. Within moments, I had another child standing awkwardly in my living room watching me scramble to find a place for her to sit amongst Mt. Clothesmore while her father and his crew took care of the jungle, which was my backyard. My time of being Suzy Homemaker quickly transformed into being the hostess with the mostest. All in all, the girls had a great time and luckily I had just refilled on snacks the night before.

After paying the lawn crew and letting the girls bid our super cute house guest adieu, I received a text from my noon appointment stating she would be considerably late. Due to the baby battle royale this morning, I neglected to give my daily schedule a thorough once over. I had completely forgotten about her! I was relieved that I had more time to prepare for her. I checked my schedule. My heart sank. I realized that this would make me very late for my afternoon appointments. It seems I just can’t get with it today. SMH.

Lunch and lunch cleanup went by without a hiccup. Naptime became a time of moaning, groaning and lashing out. Of course, my noon appointment shows up at this moment and we try to converse amongst the chaos. This was hard. Lucky for me she understands and appreciates the life of a single, work-at-home Mompreneur! (Sidebar: at this point of my life, I have no room to entertain anyone who doesn’t.)

I wound up missing one appointment to get an item sold. That really killed my personal daily income goal. Daagonit! I arrived at a consignment shop to sell another batch of items and was instructed to wait in the store until they evaluate all items and then call my name. Can you imagine trying to wait in a cramped store with three children who aren’t on a leash?? After 20 minutes of walking around, browsing and eventually allowing them to have some free play time, the toddlers decided it was time for round 2.

Madison let out a blood-curdling shriek because Kaiden snatched a toy from her. Surrounded by at least 30 other toys, the terrible twos began the most hideous sounding yet amazingly cute fight match I have ever seen. One jabs the other. They both cry. One pats the other on the back and says, “I’m sorry. It’s ok. Ok?” And then they fight again. One pushes the other and snatched the object of affection away. They both shriek. They hug. Repeat. If it weren’t so flipping loud, I swear I would have just turned my back and let the chips fall where they may. I know I’m “Mother of the Year” at this point. But I am TIRED, it is HOT outside and by this time we’ve all been in this store entirely too long.

Just when I’ve just about had enough (along with probably all of the other adults in the store), my name is called. I discovered there wasn’t a need for most of the items I submitted. My pay? Froyo money. Insert a roll of the eyes and loud audible sigh riiiiiight here.

My last stop before going home is Target. Perhaps there had been an early full moon? Maybe the heat index was higher than I imagined? What was this weird phenomenon that caused all three children to reenact a scene from “Where The Wild Things Are?” Typically, I could give them the famous riot act and gain at least 70 percent compliance while shopping in the store. Today seemed like a fail, and I didn’t have it within me to go military mommy mode. My daughters asked for and seemed to touch everything. The three-year-old begged to walk vs. ride in the basket. I couldn’t find the ONE main item I stopped in the store for. This was a less-than-pleasant experience. I am sure that by this time I appeared haggard and broken.

By the time I approached the service counter I noticed that my one-year-old must have kicked one of her shoes off, for the umpteenth time, somewhere in this god forsaken store. So, instead of asking a representative to process a payment on my Redcard, I was forced to ask her if anyone had noticed and turned in a brown leather mary jane with pink and purple flowers on it. No luck. My head and shoulders slumped, and I began my trek around the store twice, retracing my steps and desperately trying to find this shoe. Needless to say, the shoe was never found. I left my name and number just in case some kind soul found it later. Yeah, right.

I began to checked out of the store and I told myself, “It’s almost over, Nicole. You are going home. You’ve already pre-baked dinner. They didn’t get a full nap so they will go to bed early and then you can catch up on your unending task list in peace — and maybe even return that phone call.”

The clerk interrupted my thoughts to alert me that my credit card had been declined. I was mortified and flustered! How could this happen to me? I have been a good steward of my resources. I’ve committed to being frugal and wise with everything including my money, I JUST went over my budget and glanced at my accounts this morning. This cannot be happening. I tried to check my account on my Iphone and, keeping up with Murphy’s Law, my data ran very slow so I couldn’t get the pages to pull up quickly. I began to spiral in my mind. I stopped myself and forced myself to mutter a very half sincere and angry prayer. It probably didn’t even reach the ceiling, but I figured I’d better do something to keep me from either crying, lashing out at the kids for acting like the little Whos from Whoville, or just stammering something to the clerk about how this is a huge mistake. I suppose this felt like the proverbial straw that was just so much more than I could take. It touched a nerve for me that was dangerously close to the wounds that are still fresh and bleeding.

I remember I used to be THAT MOM who always looked great! I used to be THAT MOM who always had it together and had the perfect looking “whole family.” I was THAT MOM who looked for opportunities to step in and pay it forward at any moment’s notice with a joyful heart because I was just so happy and blessed and wanted others around me to feel the same way.

At this moment, however, I felt like the other mom whom others looked down on. I felt like that other mom, the one with waay to many kids, alone. I believed that at that moment I appeared to be that one mom who is always angry and frustrated and yelling at her kids because she can’t control them. I was headed toward an inward full onslaught of my perceived character, complete with telling myself, “Wow! Great job today, Nic! You even effed up the shopping trip.” At this moment, I felt that I was the epitome of what some folks call “The Baby Mamma.”

“Excuse me; may I take care of that for you?”

I heard those words and before my mind could perceive that those words were actually for me, I sarcastically thought, “Sure. Take care of this circus that is my life because I haven’t done a stellar job with it and I’m getting so tired of the rebuilding process. Sometimes it looks amazing, but it’s a daily, hourly struggle and moments like this make me feel like effit. What’s the use in striving to create this elusive dream that I keep plastered on my wall??!!” Instead, I shook my head slightly and said “Ummm…sure. Ok. Thank you.”

It took me a moment to look her in the eyes. I was afraid I would see judgment. I saw nothing but compassion and affirmation. She was the woman I used to be. Perhaps she used to be the woman I am now. I shook her hand. She placed her other hand over mine for a moment and I swear I felt a transfer of strength. I left with my children, my things and my thoughts. Breathless. Speechless.

I am undoubtedly trekking through my valley of life right now. I suppose it is necessary for everyone to face this part of their journey in life. I try to face each day bravely and with a good measure of faith and hope and, of course, a full dose of moxie. Sometimes, I just can’t fake it and I feel beat down by my current transition in life, and sometimes it shows. I never stop believing, even if it’s just a sliver of belief left that ultimately the universe MUST conspire on my behalf to ensure all things work out in my favor. That’s just what I’ve decided to be insane enough to expect. But, during those days that feel exceptionally draining and I don’t feel like I have enough strength or hope to hang onto, I now know that there is a greater measure of strength that I can rely on to show up for me when I don’t have any left. So, life is still OK — even when I can’t clean up for company.

Update: TARGET called. They found the shoe at 12:20 a.m.

— Nicole Lawson Miles

Nicole Lawson Miles shares her not-so-tidy life as an artist and single Mompreneur of three in her new blog, I Don’t Clean Up For Company. Nicole loves singing, film bombing as an extra, Godiva and all things PINK! She’s an overcomer of some of life’s worst nightmares and teaches women that you do not have to look like what you have been through. When asked to sum up her story, she says, “I am here for those who need to look up and see a diamond shining in the rough so that they can finally give themselves permission to shine, too!”

O Caftan! My Caftan!

Peyton PriceO Caftan! My Caftan!

My fearful search is done.

I pawed through every discount rack,

the prize I sought is won.

I hate my rear, my belly’s queer,

my thighs are just revolting,

while follow eyes across the beach,

string bikinis baring.

O my heart! Ignore those tarts

in flowing yards of zen.

What underneath my caftan lies

they’ll never see again.

— Peyton Price, with apologies to Walt Whitman and everyone, really.

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind the Picket Fence. You can find her tripping over her caftan at

Reclaiming full-price love

Alona MartinezI found him: the mysterious man who was supposed to seduce me, the aspiring novelist, while on a weekend hiatus from my husband and two kids. He was, of all places, in Nordstrom Rack.

This man was tall, freakishly tall. His dark, curly hair and broad shoulders soared above the sea of men’s dress trousers. I was across the store in the lingerie department, tangled amongst discounted lace.

Mr. Handsome wore an olive green linen shirt with pockets and tortoise shell buttons that teased their way down his lanky torso. There were wrinkles at the waistline. Had someone’s arm been wrapped around him, gently pushing creases into his strong frame just moments before? He smelled of musk, I was sure of it. And sweat.  Not too much that one would turn away, but just enough to announce: I am a man, take note. He stood there holding a pair of black slacks. The weathered jeans that hung on his lean waist were nicer. Someone is making him buy those slacks, I thought to myself. Some woman.

Maybe a voluptuous blonde lover awaits him back in the hotel, lying exhausted amongst crumpled sheets reminiscing the two, three, no, four moments of ecstasy he had brought her to earlier in the afternoon. She had insisted on the pants for their next role-playing adventure. Or a stern Slavic femme fatale, with ivory skin and legs that never end (especially in those Alexander McQueen crocodile boots) demanded a classier look and he, of course, complies. He likes to keep his woman happy.

I toss the bras into my basket and gravitate towards him. My eyes are locked on his jaw: it is a beautiful jaw, perfectly sculpted and covered in three-day stubble, a look I tend to find annoying on most men but alluring on him. I know this man was put in this store for me, to make up for the slimy, arrogant, pot-bellied men that have tried shamelessly to pick me up before, but I can’t quite gather the nerve to tell him this, so I hide behind Mabinty, the Jamaican sales clerk rearranging high/low tees. From the safe cloud of her ambrosial perfume, I stare and wait for him to fetch me.

Our eyes lock momentarily and there is a short-circuit spark of energy. His murky, laid-back hazels are caught off-guard by the intense purpose of my blues. There’s no bullshit in that transaction. No small talk. You’re mine. I’ll wait, I signal. He meets my challenge with a small, sideways smile. You’re on, beautiful. The blood pulses through me making me blush. And he hasn’t even touched me. But Mabinty did. I had apparently bumped into her exhibit of One Rad Girl longsleeves.

“Wha’appen’, ma’am?  We got de nice tops today!” she sang while shoving a particularly potent turquoise number in my face. “Bit pricey but worth every penny, dear!”

“Nice…yes, lovely…” I fumbled.

“Take it, take it, it look lovely wit your eyes. Make Husband happy, ya?”

Oh, Husband… ya. Images of him flooded my mind. Come to think of it, Husband was tall. Not freakishly tall but just right. And that olive shirt, the one I’d been gazing at on this guy, why, that looked just like the shirt Husband wore the first time we met years ago on an arid farm in the Venezuelan plains. I remember because that color looked delectable against his butterscotch skin. There were buttons and pockets everywhere, too (it was the ’80s), but even such a Safari fashion statement couldn’t dampen the beauty of his broad shoulders. I had looked at them and allowed myself to dream: those shoulders will hold up my children, one day. And now, years later, they have.

The stranger waited for my next move. He turned around casually to glance at a turtleneck he had seemingly forgotten to admire. His ass was bony. A bit too bony.  Damn, no one has an ass like my husband, I found myself recognizing. And was that a balding spot peering under this dude’s curls? No one has a full head of hair like my man either. Still jet black, too.

Mabinty was waiting for my next move as well. Would I go for the full-price or head over to the peruse the discount section, over there by Men’s? I grabbed the shirt from her two-inch-long fuchsia nails.

“You’re right.  I will make Husband happy,” I announced, suddenly missing him terribly.

Mabinty smiled, her gold tooth sparkling under the fluorescent light. She gazed at the Men’s Department and nodded in agreement.

“Ya… it’s a little more but it’s worth it,” she said, her eyes glazing over and taking her far away. “Come wit me, I check you out over by lingerie, dear.”

She linked her arm in mine, as we turned our backs on the sulking stranger, leading my new turquoise T-shirt and I back on track.

— Alona Martinez

Alona Martinez has been writing life stories since she was a distracted fourth grade student in Mrs. Edinger’s class. Multiplication tables couldn’t hold a candle to what was going on in her head. Since then she’s published articles in numerous papers and writes about family and food on her blog, Culinary Compulsion. She is currently working on her first book. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Sex Ed 101

Anne BardsleyWhen our kids were in elementary school, we attempted to keep the channels of communication open. “Any questions, just ask us and we’ll tell you the truth…about ANYTHING.” That was our motto. We hoped we had a few years before they actually asked those questions, but not so the case.

At dinner one night as I cut into my steak, our 8-year-old daughter asked, “What’s a condom?” I almost choked.

I pretended to chew a long time so my husband would answer the question. After all, it was his idea we tell them to ask us anything. So here was his big fat chance. He gulped. He looked at me. I signaled that my mouth was full. He needed to take this one. I gave him a thumbs-up signal. He was on his own. I stuffed another piece of steak into my mouth. Slowly I chewed. Our 12- and 14-year-old boys looked on with curious amusement while kicking each other under the table.

“A condom is something a man uses when he has sex with a woman to prevent pregnancy,” he stated like an encyclopedia.

“Well, how does that work?” they wanted to know.

“The man puts the condom on his penis so the sperm can’t get out.” My 10-year-old daughter turned green. “Then she can’t have a baby,” he finished. He looked quite proud of himself.

My daughters both stopped chewing, and their eyeballs popped out. He continued. Why was he continuing? This was enough! “It also prevents STD,” he said matter of fact. My daughter wrinkled her face.

“Dad, that doesn’t make sense,” she protested. “Sure it does.

“What is STD?”

“Sexually Transmitted Disease,” he answered. Were they beads of sweat on his brow? “Syphilis is one,” he muttered. Oh, he needed to stuff steak in his mouth RIGHT NOW!

“What does that mean? How do you know if you catch that ‘Sniffilis’?”

Their forks were in mid-motion waiting for his response. I immediately stuffed a big potato in my mouth. I looked like a chipmunk. Naturally, I couldn’t talk with my mouth full.

“You can only catch that disease if you have sex without a condom. You don’t have to worry about it. You are too young to have sex.”

“Yeah, but I don’t understand how the condom does this stuff. Is it like magic?”

“No the man puts it on his penis before they have sex.”

My 6-year-old son perked up, “Put what where?” That is so gross!” The two older boys were snorting now.

My daughter said, “I am never going to her house!”

“Whose house?” I asked, totally confused.

Steffy is moving into a condom and I am never going there. That is just disgusting!”

I came to the rescue and explained a condominium is nothing like a condom. Of course she could still go to Steffy’s new house.

“Forget what your father just said,” I told them.

Hands were raised to ask more questions, but my husband told them that was enough information for one dinner. We could discuss more next year at our annual “Ask Us Anything” meeting.

I just kept chewing.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She’s been featured on Scary Mommy,, Better Writers After 50, local magazines and more. She barely survived raising five children and is so glad she didn’t strangle them as teenagers. Grandchildren have erased those late night, missed curfew, memories.  She lives in St Pete, Fla., with her husband and two spoiled cockapoos.

Is that a banana in your book drop?
Or are you just happy to see me?

Life holds plenty of surprises, especially when you work at a public library. Last week, for instance, we found a banana in the book drop.  Naturally, I logged onto my favorite librarian Facebook group to share the news.  Roz Warren

The first response?

Curious George strikes again!

Then: We once found a melted banana split in ours.

After which my fellow librarians began posting about the items they’d found over the years in their own book drops:

A full diaper.

A dead rabbit.

An empty wine bottle.

A used condom.

We found underpants in ours yesterday. At least they were clean.

A banana was beginning to sound like a relatively delightful book find. Reports of more discoveries poured in:

A slice of bacon.

A cell phone.

An empty soda can.

A live lobster.

A laptop.

An ice cream sandwich. Thankfully it was winter, so it hadn’t melted.

A coffee maker. People be crazy.

As the comments continued, I began to wonder. Was there anything that HADN’T been left in a library book drop?

A dead fish.

A live chicken!

A small tub of unopened cottage cheese.

A cat.

A bra.

A dirty love letter! (And yes, we all read it.)

In my own workplace, a lit joint in the book drop is not unheard of.

As librarians warmed to the topic, book drop discoveries came in fast and furious:

A frog!

Pancake syrup.

A lizard.

An unopened box of sanitary pads.

An open box of Bisquick.

A full bottle of Jim Beam.

A bag of grapes.

A carton of eggs.

One of my co-workers used to get gifts in the book drop from a secret admirer.

Think that working in a library is all sunshine and roses? Contemplate these book drop finds and think again:

A dead bird in a shoe box with a note threatening the life of our library mascot, a Cockatiel.

Seventeen snakes.

A finger. Yes, an actual finger. We never found out whose. And it was my first week on the job.

Gravel. And ground beef. We thought somebody had been murdered. We had to throw every book in the drop away.

A severed foot. Thankfully, plastic. Obviously someone’s idea of a joke.

Library patrons can be mysterious:

We once found a wrapped Subway sandwich in the book drop. Later that week, we also found one on the shelves. Weird.

Nothing odd in our book drop yet. But someone once put a hot dog in our suggestion box.

Somebody just left a deer head on our roof.

Last week somebody removed a garden gnome from a nearby house and put it in our book drop.

Some folks just don’t deserve a book drop:

My library got rid of our book drop the second time it was set on fire.

Some idiot poured gasoline in ours. Now we have security cameras.

Our book drop was destroyed. We don’t know who did it, but we came to work one morning to find that somebody had beat the living hell out of it.

We removed the book drop from our middle school library after the first wad of gum was deposited. Now the kids have to return books in the drop slot at the circ desk. #nasty. #notpaidenough #peoplecanbegross.

Finally? Librarians would like to remind you that Real Patriots don’t include the library book drop in their celebration of our nation’s birth:

If we don’t close our drop over July 4th weekend, people put fire crackers in it.

Library life is full of discovery. And when it comes to the book drop, it seems, anything is possible! Which is why I’m hoping that the next time I open ours, I’ll find it packed with hundred dollar bills. Or Oreo cookies. I’d even settle for that lit joint.

A librarian can dream, can’t she?

— Roz Warrem

Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor. This essay first appeared on

Reflections of Erma