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Can you hear me now?

Roxanne JonesAccording to the experts, hearing generally is the last of our senses to go at the end of life. But at midlife, it’s frequently one of the first to wane.

This age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis (toss that word out at your next cocktail party). As we age, structures inside our ears start to change and their ability to function declines (all those loud rock-and-roll concerts and cranked-up stereo speakers didn’t help us baby boomers, either). As a result, we start having trouble hearing high-frequency sounds, understanding someone when there’s background noise, or telling certain sounds apart.

We all know what happens next. The television volume gets cranked up. We start watching people’s lips when they talk. You rely on a spouse or companion to “translate” what others are saying. And conversations can be both frustrating and hilarious. For example:

An online acquaintance recently wrote about how she heard “phone” when her husband said he’d misplaced his (mustache) comb, and she offered to call it so the ringtone would help him track it down.

One evening a few months ago, my husband and I were watching a Netflix movie when I announced that I had to go to the bathroom — a cue for him to pause what we were watching (since he, of course, controls the remote). His reaction was, “Why do you have to do that now?” I rather snippily replied, “Because my bladder’s full, that’s why.” Then he got it. Turns out, he thought I’d said “I have to go vacuum” and was baffled as to why I felt the need to do so in the middle of a movie.

But maybe the best misunderstanding we’ve had from mishearing happened in the boudoir. Upon awakening one weekday morning before my husband retired, I suggested a fast amorous encounter before he had to get out of bed and off to work. He misheard me and, fastidious Felix Unger-like, had a most interesting response — which inspired this haiku:

I offered “quickie;”

He heard “cookie” and asked me

“Why get crumbs in bed?”

Which just goes to show you, fellow boomers — hearing loss can affect your sex life. So listen up!

— Roxanne Jones

Roxanne Jones blogs at boomerhaiku.com, a mostly lighthearted, often irreverent look at life as a baby boomer, 17 syllables at a time. When she’s not tapping out haikus, she’s a freelance medical copywriter, enjoys chardonnay and contemplates plastic surgery to get rid of the wattle on her neck.

Narcissistic? Who? Me?

Steve EskewWhen I was a very young boy, I used to watch the radio. Yes. Watch.

Having not been alive long enough to develop the eccentricities dominating my life now, I was considered a normal radio watcher. Never could figure out why people so intensely eyeballed that big mahogany box that broadcasted their favorite radio programs.

I tried coloring during a radio show, but it somehow  distracted me. When I tried turning my back to the box and just listening, my mind began to wander. I was missing  most of the broadcast, so I resumed my fierce goggling at the radio, feeling like an uncertified idiot.

As a definitely certified adult, I do not watch TV. Heavens no, that would be sane. I only listen. I tell myself I’m too busy reading or writing to actually watch the boob tube. I reserve my watching talent strictly for the radio.

Most of the time I have the TV tuned into news shows. Never watching. Only listening. Until recently I couldn’t resist snorting or mumbling short but snide comments about certain news items as I wrote or read. My endless spoken commentaries annoyed my wife like a gnat so, even though it hurt like a hangover, I stifled myself. Sort of.

Turns out I was unwittingly substituting something even worse. One day my wife announced that she was fed up to the funny bone. Huh? Before she went to live in another section of the house, she explained. As I sit near the TV reading or writing, it seems I silently mock most of the news items I’m listening to. Who knew?

She had recorded the “spectacle” and tossed me her phone. There I sat writing like a demon, interrupting my task periodically to perform facial expressions and hand gestures that accompanied each news item. My visual rhythms amazed me. Had I founded a new art form? Why would my wife want to miss out on this?

Raw talent. Pure poetry.

If, for example, a killer is quoted as saying: “I was unaware that the gun was loaded,” I shrug my shoulders, shake my head no and elevate the palms of my hands into the air in mock innocence. If an item reports a citizen’s angry outburst, my face contorts to what I imagine the rage must have looked like during the utterance. Sometimes pounding my fist on the desk, then resuming the task before me.

Until my wife showed me, I had no idea I was doing this. Personally, I’m awestruck. I immediately stuck a mirror on the wall facing my desk to gander a glimpse of funny boy’s insane reactions to the news as I read or write while listening to TV. Forget selfies, I prefer to steal a stare into that speculum, which reflects the enchanting anti-hero I’ve so mysteriously become. Talk about multi-tasking!

I’ve dang near swept myself off my feet. Yup, my wife has nicknamed me Narcissus.

The other week when I heard a report that several former supporters were “now distancing themselves” from a certain wayward politician, I noticed that I was suddenly holding my hand out like a traffic cop to emulate “distancing.” Actually, I looked  more like an early Diana Ross as she sang “Stop! In the Name of Love.”

The other day the news anchor announced that authorities were searching a wooded area for a suspected criminal. I glanced at the mirror and caught myself mocking the scene: first by turning my hands into sun visors to shade  my eyes while affecting a search-pose, and then by turning my hands into binoculars. Lock me up.

Does a standup career lurk within my grasp? Deadlines, be damned. Sometimes, I’m up until dawn laughing at myself. I’m a riot, I tell you. I’d make a video but I’m afraid of being committed soon after it’s posted.

My psychiatrist has begged me to seek therapy. Elsewhere.

I attribute my lunacies to me dear, sweet Irish Mother. No, she never dropped me on my head during my infancy. But, I’m told that, as she watched the radio, she was known to rock me to sleep. With a rock.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.

Juicebox jungle

Anna Lefler(Editor’s note: Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the making of EBWW faculty member Anna Lefler’s new comic novel, Preschooled. A portion of the proceeds from the book will benefit the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Click here to watch the hysterical book trailer.)

Why did you choose a preschool as the backdrop for a story about grownups?

I think the preschool years are an intense — and often comedic — crucible for parents. The vulnerability of allowing others to influence your child for the first time, the introduction of competitive parenting into your previously insulated world, the constant fear of “doing it wrong” when the stakes feel so very high — the preschool world introduces a whole new array of formidable pressures onto adults who are already sleep-deprived, highly caffeinated and afflicted with their own pre-existing insecurities, neuroses and character flaws. To me, that makes for a target-rich storytelling environment.

Why have you described preschool as the “Juicebox Jungle”?

From a child’s perspective, preschool is a warm and caring institution where the focus is on kindness, sharing, and a loving appreciation of the world around us. From a parent’s perspective, however — especially a well-meaning but driven, achievement-oriented parent who’s used to excelling at everything they do — preschool can instead feel like a surprise parenting beauty pageant, where the judges are everywhere, and they’re throwing better birthday parties, volunteering longer hours and consistently providing nutritious, earth-friendly snacks kids love to eat. “Juicebox Jungle” is a tongue-in-cheek nod to this seemingly innocuous environment that is, in fact, a source of real anxiety for many parents.

You have called this book “a love letter to my preschool years.” What do you mean by that?Preschooled

I’m the first to admit that I got sucked into the crazy L.A. preschool thing. Somehow my desire to do right by my kids turned into my being the mom who was sending out emails at one in the morning with urgent reminders to the Footie-Pajama-Day Committee. I mean, it got totally out of hand there for a while, but it came from a place of wanting to feel like I was doing everything I could to be the best mom I could be. And looking back at preschool now, I see that everyone was coming from that place. And although it turned into quite the Type A parenting melee at times, I find the scene very endearing in hindsight. Those were exhausting, humbling years, but I learned a great deal from everyone around me and I count myself incredibly fortunate to have those memories — and those friendships.

Steve Martin and Carol Burnett are your comedy icons. How have they influenced you as a writer?

I would say they both gave me a huge appreciation for the power of farce done with great intellectual subtlety, as well as a sharp, unexpected twist on social commentary invested with deep soulfulness. To me, they are both masters at the sublimely ridiculous that is not, in fact, ridiculous at its heart, nor is it ever mean-spirited. Their influence inspires me to go where I need to go — including down a hyperbolic or offbeat path — to say what I need to say.

You write about “everyday triumphs and tragedies — the extraordinary in the ordinary.” How difficult is it to find humor in those times?

Oh, I think we have to find humor in those times — both the ups and the downs — or we get lost in arrogance or despair. To me, the surprise twist of humor in a moment where it’s least expected is a truly magical thing — it reminds us that life is so much bigger than we are, that we’ll never truly understand it, yet we’re inseparable from its infinite, mysterious nature. I believe this is essential comfort for humans, both in good times and bad.

Were you a funny kid?

Well, I thought I was. Then again, I had a rich fantasy life. A review of report cards from my youth will reveal repeated occurrences of the phrase, “disturbs others around her.” I had my own little schtick that included a scathing send-up of Frau McKenzie (our universally reviled German teacher) and a disturbingly realistic impression of the mandolin tune from “The Godfather.” (Don’t ask.) Not material that would play in the main room, you understand — more of a cabaret-level act.

What would you say to readers who, like Ruben, are aspiring humor writers?

Speaking from my own experience, I would say to become very self-aware of the jokes you make and the funny observations that come to you. Chances are, you already have a comedic voice — the task is to take that starting point and work to refine it and expand it, all while gaining a clear understanding of your specific view of the world. Of course, the only way to do this is to sit down and take a stab at an idea you’ve been toying with — perhaps a short essay about something that matters to you? I recommend sitting in a café with a notebook and a pencil. (Somehow it’s easier to sneak up on yourself if there are no official electronics involved.) Settle in with your half-caf/half-decaf/almond-foam/choco-latte, tell your inner critic to cram it, and see what happens. Just make sure you tip your server well, because you’re going to be there a while…and you’re going to be back.

Is it true you once smuggled a guinea pig onto a flight from DC to LA underneath your skirt?

In my defense, I had exhausted all legal means of transport before resorting to an illicit caper. Also, it was an aggressively hideous peasant skirt, so in a sense I’ve paid my debt to society. Anyway, I was 15, the guinea pig was named Scooter, and there was no way I was moving to California without him. (The airlines classified him as a rodent, making him persona non grata on all commercial flights. #rude) The plan involved a pillowcase, my dad’s belt and the aforementioned peasant skirt. I did not anticipate the pendulum-swing effect of the guinea pig hanging in a pillowcase between my knees as I walked through Dulles International Airport with my parents (who, I recall, were keeping their distance from me and looking up at the ceiling a lot). To stop Scooter’s swinging, which was causing him to emit an excited, high-pitched squeak, I made the rest of the cross-country journey with a fake limp that slowed my gait to a glacial pace — a limp that, in times of stress, can reemerge to this day.

— Anna Lefler

Anna Lefler is a humorist, comedy writer and author of two books, Preschooled and The Chicktionary: From A-Line to Z-Snap, The Words Every Woman Should Know, which the Chicago Tribune called “a wry celebration of modern femininity.” She was a staff writer on the Nickelodeon/NickMom TV show “Parental Discretion with Stefanie Wilder-Taylor,” where she also served as a recurring on-camera performer. She is a three-time faculty member of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and her humorous essays have appeared on Salon.com, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Big Jewel. She has performed standup comedy in clubs around Los Angeles including the Hollywood Improv and the Comedy Store. Anna lives in Los Angeles with her two children, whom she regularly embarrasses.

Poppie’s personal trainer

Jerry ZezimaAt the advanced age of 61 (my age is advancing while the rest of me is regressing), I am happy to say that I don’t need to join a health club.

That’s because I have a personal trainer: my granddaughter, Chloe.

Chloe, whose age has advanced to 2 and a half in the blink of an eye (my other eye doesn’t work as well as it used to), keeps me in shape like no professional ever could.

That was exhaustingly evident during a recent trip to Safari Adventure, a children’s activity and entertainment center in Riverhead, New York.

For me, a child at heart, which got a strenuous workout and pumped enough blood to actually reach my brain, the place was a gym where I had a one-day membership.

Ordinarily, Chloe keeps me going with activities such as playing hide-and-seek; running around the dining room table; pushing her in her toy car (she honks the horn) or on her tricycle (she rings the bell); having foot races in the backyard; making her fly like Supergirl; doing bench presses with her; carrying her; catching her as she goes down the slide; helping her go up and down stairs; taking her to the park and pushing her on the swings; playing catch; playing soccer; frolicking with her in the kiddie pool; jumping in puddles; or simply walking hand-in-hand to and fro wherever we may be.

If these were Olympic sports, I would have set the world record for gold medals and you would have seen me (and Chloe) on boxes of Wheaties.

As it is, I have already gone through a pair of sneakers since Chloe started walking, even though I don’t see her every day, much to my chagrin because (a) I love her and (b) I could use the exercise.

I got plenty of it at Safari Adventure.

The first thing I had to do was take off my sneakers, which for once avoided wear and tear, even if my feet and the rest of me didn’t.

Then Chloe led me to a huge inflatable slide. I thought she wanted me to watch her go down, but she had a better idea: She wanted me to go with her.

Getting to the top entailed going through a rubber obstacle course. I couldn’t stand because I am too tall, so I had to crawl, which must have been a pathetic sight since I kept toppling over like I had been out on an all-night bender.

Chloe patiently waited for me as I caught up with her at the stairs, which she scampered up in a flash. It took me approximately the length of time it would have taken Chloe to read “War and Peace.”

Then — whoosh! — down the slide she went. I followed, slowly and clumsily, suffering rubber burns on my elbows and knees in the process.

“Again!” Chloe said when I reached the bottom.

This exercise was repeated about half a dozen times until Chloe took me by the hand and led me to the bouncy house, where my conditioning reached a whole new level. Actually, two levels: up and down.

It is safe to say, though not safe to do if you are a cardiac patient, that Chloe got the jump on me. This was the routine: bounce, bounce, bounce, plop! Every time she did it, I did, too, which made Chloe giggle with delight.

If I had a dollar for every time we bounced and plopped, I could have paid off my mortgage.

Then Chloe led me back to the slide, then to the bouncy house again, then to another, even taller slide. At least this one didn’t have an obstacle course.

After an hour and a half, Chloe was ready to go home. I was ready to go to the hospital. But it was invigorating, and fun, and I’d go back to Safari Adventure in a rapidly pounding, chest-exploding heartbeat.

Thanks to my little personal trainer, I’m in the best shape of any grandpa I know.

— 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.

Mets fans threaten fat cat Matt Harvey

Charles HartleyNew Yorkers don’t care if Matt Harvey’s arm gets permanently damaged in the upcoming playoffs and has to be amputated later in life.

That’s going to be his problem, not theirs.

All they care about is that the New York Mets pitching ace shuts up about protecting his arm and pitches as many innings as it takes for the Mets to win the World Series, their first since 1986.

All Mets fans are saying: Just pitch, Matt, you prima donna diva wussy. You make millions of dollars a year. This is not about you and the long-term health of your arm. This is about you serving us. You owe us. We pay for your Tudor mansion abode and 2015 Porsche.

Man up, pretty boy with the mystical eyes that make you a Derek Jeter-like Manhattan women machine.

You get everything you want. And now you’re worried you may hurt your little arm in the biggest Mets games in 20 years. You were two-years-old when Ray Knight, Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner led the Mets to Kingdom Come. You wore diapers then and sucked your thumb and the latter continued until you were 14. We figured. You seem like you were that kind of baby.

Get out there and throw until your arm bleeds for all we care. Pitch, pretty boy. Throw your best stuff, damn it. Beguile hitters like you do chicks. Get your diva head out of the New York night clubs.

You will pitch as long as we want you to. We don’t care how many innings you were supposed to pitch this season based on your doctor’s instructions. We don’t know your doctor and don’t care who he is. Winning the playoffs and World Series supersede the long-term health of your arm.

When you are 60, many of us will be dead chilling for eternity. In eternity no one even contemplates an aged pro pitcher whose arm hurts because he abused it during a Mets playoff run 36 years earlier. They don’t play baseball in eternity because the games would take too long and the games are already too long.

This is not about your health, Matt. This is our health. Your job is to take the ball, step on the hill, and throw and throw and throw as many times as it takes to win every game you pitch. If it takes 200 pitches, it takes 200 pitches.

And yes, after you win game one, you are obligated to pitch game five if necessary or the first game of the next playoff series and so on. If things break right, you have 40 or 50 innings of hurling in front of you in the next few weeks. Tell your arm to deal with it.

There will be no whining from you. Suggest to your agent who’s trying to protect you to jump in the Hudson River, which is polluted beyond repair and flows beneath entangled and disturbing electrical wires and smoke stack tubes.

You better come through, Matt.

Screw the health of your arm. You’re rich. Stop being such a bitch.

That’s where we’re at, Matt, you fat cat in a hat.

— 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.

My sixty-three four-year-old self

I am 63 years old in my body, but I am really four on the inside.

Anne BardsleyFour is a perfect age. I enjoy the innocence, the energy and their creative mind. It’s an age of wonder and discovery. There are few inhibitions and four-year-olds believe they can do anything. Yes, I’m definitely four!

I started to notice this after watching my granddaughter. She has no idea that she sings like her grandmother. I usually apologize to people in the pew in front of me at church, “I’m sorry, but God gave me this voice so I have to sing. I won’t be offended if you move.” She, on the other hand, holds a karaoke show in her room and the family must all attend. She wiggles, giggles and sings so loud the windows shake.

After spending a few days with her, I inherited her spirit. On the plane home, I decided to channel my four-year-old self. The change was revitalizing. I smile more. I laugh more. I appreciate life more. Here are just a few things that I have noticed:

I like to giggle. Giggling is contagious and it makes wrinkles disappear.

I noticed how my flowered skirt flows in the breeze when I twirl. When I dance, I lift it up a little higher and twirl some more. I watch myself in the mirror and laugh when I do this. Sometimes I laugh so hard I pee a little.

I can sing really well, if no one is listening. If people can hear me, I sing really loud even though they make funny faces when I sing. Some people hold their ears, but maybe they have an earache.

I like to watch the moon and the stars at night. I wonder how far away they are. Some nights I feel like I could touch the moon with my nose, like an Eskimo kiss.

I like to hunt for the tree frog in my plants. I can hear her singing, but I can’t find her. I know she’s hiding in my hanging baskets. Some days she sits on the top of my doorway. I love those days. I say, “Good morning! I’m so happy to see you today.” She stares at me. Maybe she’s an elderly frog. I wish she should sing and maybe shake her little suction-cup finger at me as a wave hello.

I like to write with bright color pens and markers. I like smooth, gel pens that are multicolored. Purple, orange and green are my favorite. My desk pad at work looks like a happy kindergartener keeps my schedule. Sometimes there are flowers, balloons and birthday cakes that take up the entire two-inch block of that day. There are a lot of suns with bright beams shooting out, too.

I like to make marshmallow treats in different shapes. My hands get all sticky, but I keep making shapes. Horses, dogs, cats…so fun!

I like my hair to stick up. When my hair was longer, I had French braids, buns and twists. I wore one-sided pony tails. Now that my hair is short and I’m older, I fluff up the back with mousse. My husband says it looks like a chicken is stuck on my head, but I like it. My inner little girl thinks it looks fantabulous!

I really want a horse. I want to comb her mane and talk to her. I want her big eyes to look right into mine. I’m pretty sure I understand horse language. I’d feed her an apple and a carrot and we’d be girlfriends. I don’t really want to clean her stall, but I would. I don’t want my girlfriend to live in a stinky stall.

I love sparkly fingernail polish. I really like polka dots. …I call them “Polka-spots” on top of each nail. Glittery purple nails with red polka spots make me smile.

My favorite thing to do on a rainy day is to walk with my umbrella and step in puddles. Splash!

My next favorite thing to do, after puddle jumping, is to watch a funny movie and eat popcorn.

I like to watch snowflakes fall from the sky. I stick my tongue out to catch one. I wish they tasted like Life Savers candy, but they don’t.

It’s so fun to make a snow angel. I lie on my back in the falling snow and make my wings as big as I want. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine an angel is helping me.

Sea shells! I love to fill a bucket with sea shells. I only pick special shells. I like the shiny ones that a crab used to call home. Some round shells have a hole that I could make into a necklace.

I like to write in the sand. I can make a house, a car, a star, the sun, a big heart, a smiley face and so many other things.

I wish my mom and dad were still alive. I also wish my grand mom and grand pop were here, too. We could all go on a picnic together.

My favorite nap time is when my puppies sleep in my bed. They are so excited to be on my pillow, even though they snore. I don’t mind.

I love my friends. They are the best! We laugh so much. Sometimes we cry and we tell each other it will be alright. We hug each other. That’s what friends do.

Most women my age realize they are turning into their mothers. I’m turning into my granddaughter!

What a wonderful world!

— 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 Anne Bardsley: Perfectly Imperfect.

My close brushes with fame

Con ChapmanWhenever I get tired of depressing news stories about overpaid fat cat CEOs, I turn to the sports pages for relief. There you can return to the lost innocence of youth and find depressing sports stories about overpaid fat cat athletes.

Take, for example, Albert Pujols who abandoned the St. Louis Cardinals, my boyhood favorite, for a bigger paycheck with the Los Angeles Angels a few years ago. He’s a lock to make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he was once a kid, and not just any kid. He was a kid on a high school baseball team that the son of my second-eldest sister’s third husband’s first wife threw batting practice to.

I could let that kind of fifth-hand notoriety go to my head, but my friends — or at least those I consider to be my real friends — say it hasn’t. “He could Lord it over us,” they say, “but he doesn’t. He’s very down-to-earth.”

I’m also hot-wired in the world of soul music. When I was a high school senior, I drove 100 miles with friends to an Aretha Franklin concert. As the Queen of Soul brought down the house with her #1 hit “Respect,” an inspiration struck a member of our group. “Let’s go backstage and try to meet her!” she said, and the word became the deed quicker than you could say “sock-it-to-me-sock-it-to-me-sock-it-to-me.”

We made our way past security guards to a narrow passageway outside the singer’s dressing room and, after a decent interval during which Aretha did whatever R&B legends do after a concert, she emerged into the hall and came thisclosetotouching me.

The irony, of course, is that if this encounter occurred today, Aretha and I would touch since both her circumference and mine have increased substantially in the past four decades.

It isn’t just me. When my wife worked in Manhattan, she sat next to two-time Academy Award-winner Dustin Hoffman one time in a diner. “He was nice, not at all stuck-up,” she recalls. “He asked me to pass him the ketchup, because his table didn’t have any.” As you might have guessed by now, my wife has passed me the ketchup numerous times in the past quarter century, so it’s as if there’s this great-chain-of-ketchup-passers that links me to the star of “The Graduate.”

Hanging out with the stars isn’t all sweetness and light, though. You have to be there for them when they go through personal tragedies. Take Christopher Cross, the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter whose 1984 song “Thinking of Laura” recalls a friend who died young.  One of my wife’s college roommates’ best friends went to high school with that girl, and she (my wife, not the roommate or the dead girl or the best friend) can’t listen to that song without getting all choked up. Actually, she can’t listen to it at all because I took the album to a used record store shortly after we married and sold it. I can’t stand the guy for making my wife cry, although that’s a relatively easy thing to do since she bursts into tears over certain particularly emotional commercials for instant coffee.

I hope you won’t think I’m just dropping names if I mention that O.J. Simpson’s daughter once spit on my wife’s sister. We don’t have the loogie to prove it, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the two eyewitnesses I’ve spoken to, who are both related to me by marriage.

I like to think that the famous writers I have known have influenced my work in some small way. Take John Updike, for example. I didn’t actually know him know him, but a friend of mine lived in the same town as the famous novelist north of Boston.

I savor the memory of the story my friend told me about the Saturday he found himself in line behind Updike at the dry cleaners. Those cable-knit sweaters you see on Updike on the covers of some of his most famous works? Updike brought one in that day, and went into the same kind of detail you will find in works such as “Rabbit, Run” with the woman behind the counter about how he wanted it cleaned. And I heard about it — second hand!

But I never let this kind of stuff go to my head. I think I’m still the regular guy I used to be, before I met my famous friends. People tell me it’s true.

“You’re so modest,” they say. “And you have so much to be modest about!”

— 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.

Houseplant psychology

jocelyn-jane-cox hsAccording to the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui, houseplants help to create a positive flow of energy throughout a house. On the other hand, dead or dying plants have the opposite effect. Of course, keeping them alive and healthy can feel like an uphill battle.

Water, sun and the correct soil are obvious things to provide for your houseplants, but caring for them is actually far more complex than this. Though some might suggest a degree in botany, what you really need is a psychology degree, or maybe a master’s degree in social work because it’s all psychological.

Here are some tips on how to not become an owner of dead plants:

• Reverse Psychology: “Frankly, I don’t care whether you prosper or not. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re wilted or perky. In fact, drooping suits you.”

• Healthy Competition: (To the fern) “Are you going let that little jade grow taller than you? And Aloe told me he’s going try and grow two more inches by next week. They’re all going to be bigger than you pretty soon — how is that going to feel?”

• Guilt trip: “I didn’t get my thumbs tattooed green for nothing!”

• Threats: “I can go pick up a whole fleet of fake plants any time I want, and those don’t require any of this high-maintenance TLC.”

• Motherly Nagging: “Please sit up, dear. Your posture looks terrible.”

• Hypnosis: (Waving a pocket watch back and forth) “You’re getting verrrry green.”

• Tough Love: “Look, we come into this world alone, and we leave it alone. What you make of your time on this plant stand is up to you.”

• Guided Visualization: “Inhale. Imagine that you’re in a rainforest, lush and verdant. Exhale. You are surrounded by friends. Inhale. A light mist covers your leaves. Exhale. If you work hard enough and do your share, you’ll protect yourself and your family from deforestation. Inhale. Only you can save the forest. Exhale. But no pressure.”

• Militancy: “Fifteen stretches! Now! And I don’t want to hear all this bellyaching — if you think that’s what plants did back in ‘Nam, you got another thing coming!”

• Begging: (Get on your hands and knees and let a few real tears fall down your cheeks.) “Please?”

(Disclaimer: I have only ever been able to motivate one type of plant with the above methods and that is the extra-hardy philadendrons. I have pushed many of them to the edge, then talked them off the sill. My husband, on the other hand, has two real green thumbs, without tattoos.)

— Jocelyn Jane Cox

Jocelyn Jane Cox’s two-year-old son runs circles around his crib while she types. Her husband is an artist who works mostly with packing tape and wire (true story). She has a collection of decorative mushrooms that she should probably mention less often. In addition to writing, she coaches figure skating — “a cold job but somebody’s gotta do it.” She blogs about the lighter side of parenting and homeownership at The Home Tome and write a bi-monthly humor column, Chronicles of Parenting. Her satirical book, The Homeowner’s Guide to Greatness, was an Amazon bestseller in the humor category. Her writing has appeared on Slate, The MidMamalodeIn The Powder RoomBLUNT MomsSammiches and Psych Meds and Mock Mom, among others. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Reflections of Erma