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Confessions of a husband beater

Kathy TurskiI beat my husband the other night. I couldn’t help it, he asked for it.

“I’m tired of playing games,” I said. “How much more do you think you can take?”

“Come on,” he coaxed. “Just one more round of Battleship.”

He shouldn’t have pushed me like that. After the third beating he reeled slightly, blinking in bewilderment.

“How can you do that?” Staring at the ships on the computer screen, he added, “I can’t even find your aircraft carrier. What kind of goofy strategy are you using?”

“It’s called ‘hide the ships where you can’t find them.’”

“That’s ridiculous. I should be able to find them all.” This is from a man who demands daily where I’ve hidden his reading glasses. “You must be cheating.”

He shouldn’t have accused me of cheating. I demolished his fleet three more times. Even his PT boat wasn’t safe.

“Just a few more rounds,” he mumbled.

“Haven’t you had enough punishment?”

He shook his head. “Are you kidding? I’m just getting warmed up. What, are you scared of losing?”

“I’ve been petrified the whole time.”

“Very funny. Come on, set up for the next round.”

I put a hand on his shoulder and said softly, “It’s late, honey, we need to get to sleep.” Once the lights were out, I pretended not to hear him whimper, “Just one more round.” I felt like a sadist.

For the rest of the week he begged me for more. I only replied, “Not tonight, I have a headache.”

Several nights later we visited another couple. After dinner they invited us to play games. My husband’s face paled and he excused himself to the restroom, claiming a possible case of distemper. The wife gave me a look eloquent with sympathy.

“You beat your husband, don’t you?”

“Only at Battleship. He asks for it, though.”

“They always do.” She stared at the husband, who fiddled nervously with a card deck. “Try beating this one at Scrabble. He’ll keep you up all night until he finally wins. The tiles are so stained with sweat you can’t read the letters any more.”

“And the dictionary?”

She shuddered. “Don’t ask.”

Ads for popular games claim their products bring people closer together. So does hand-to-hand combat.

Yet, after much thought and research, I’ve finally found the perfect game for my husband and me to enjoy. There will be no more complaining, no suspicion of cheating, no criticizing. I call it “Strip Twister.”

The way I figure it, my husband will never know if he’s winning or losing, and even if he does, he probably won’t care.

— Kathy Turski

Kathy Turski writes the way she looks — short and funny. She’s published in Flush Fiction, A Bubba In Time Saves None, The Anthology From Hell, Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader and by Aurora Wolf Press. Her latest work, “My Inner Fat Girl,” appears in You & Me Magazine. Kathy lives in North Texas with her husband, clerks for a local library and loves old movies, baking and coming up with weird story ideas — mainly fueled by caffeine and chocolate.

When do I get to slumber?

Kristen Hansen BrakemanMy husband and two youngest daughters were headed for the door when I noticed they were packed rather light, “Wait, where are your sleeping bags?  Don’t you need them to stay at your Mom’s?”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you? She had a thing, so we’re going to a hotel down in Long Beach instead. Thought I’d show the girls the Queen Mary.”

“Won’t that be lovely,” I say, biting my tongue so hard it almost bleeds. It was my idea that my husband take our two younger daughters away for the night while our eldest had her first slumber party, partly to keep the younger girls out of their sister’s hair, but mostly to prevent my husband from having that spontaneous migraine he gets whenever exposed to a gaggle of shrieking 12-year-old girls.

Now I was jealous. Solo hosting of eight girls for 16 hours seemed like the better deal when compared to my husband and kids fighting for space on a fold-out couch while my in-law’s stinky, geriatric dog licked them throughout the night. But a night in a fancy hotel? That was a different story.

There was no time to dwell. Seven cars had already pulled up to my house. After a quick drop, the girls’ parents ran back to their cars, perhaps worried I would change my mind. The smell of burning rubber hung in the air.

“So, what are we going to do?” the kids demanded in unison.

Luckily, I had a plan. “We’re starting with a game, then we’ll have dinner…”

“Only one game?” a girl said in a bratty voice. “I am so out of here.”

I was horrified, but then she laughed and we all laughed and I remembered that my daughter actually had nice friends. I relaxed.

Six pizza boxes and two cartons of ice cream later, these nice friends were fueled up and ready for action. The high-pitched chatter grew so loud it actually made the windows vibrate. The cat and dog ran for cover. I started to get my husband’s migraine.

“Girls! It’s time for a craft…outside! You’ll be decorating these pillowcases with fabric paint. It’s the type you can wash.” Magically, the girls moved to the patio to start the quiet craft. That was too easy.

The phone rang — husband checking in from the Observation Deck of the Queen Mary where he and our girls were enjoying Martinis, Shirley Temples and the sunset. My youngest daughter yelled into the mouthpiece, “We’re having a feast! Fried shrimp and nachos, and later we’re going to have room service!”  Great. Lucky you.

“Everything is completely under control here,” I boasted. “What a great bunch of girls. Chloe has such nice frien– Kaitlin! What are you doing?  Get down from the roof! Megan, did you, did you paint your feet? Good God, people!”

I threw the phone down and lunged for the future acrobat who had shimmied to the top of our patio awning. Then, I turned towards Megan and her purple feet.

“You can’t walk on my carpet with painted feet … and there’s paint on your pants, too!  Didn’t you remember that I said the paint was permanent?”

“Oh, I thought you said washable?” The kids, clothing strewn with various shades of neon paint, stared at me crestfallen as if I had deceived them.

“No, I meant you can paint it on the fabric and it won’t wash out — that kind of washable.”  Apparently, I wasn’t very clear on that point. I’ll surely get some angry phone calls on this tomorrow.

One DVD, 60 minutes of Dance Dance Revolution and three tubs of popcorn later, the kids were thankfully ready for the slumber part of the party. Ah, sleep at last.

Or so I thought.

Three hours later and cackles of laughter still emanating from the living room, I began to wonder if I would ever sleep that night. Surely, they would have to tire eventually. They were human, weren’t they?

I pictured my husband sound asleep in that extra comfy hotel “Heavenly Bed” surrounded by cozy feather pillows and beautiful silence. My only consolation was that my youngest daughter would certainly wake him later in the night, convinced she’d seen a ghost.

By 3 a.m. I had had enough! I marched into the living room, summoned my inner meanness and growled, “I don’t want to hear a single word come from this room.”Martinis and Motherhood

I’m pretty sure I heard someone say, “word” after I turned the corner.

It was no use. I considered taking a couple Tylenol PMs. No, that would be wrong. The parents of these kids had put their trust in me. What if something happened in the night and I wasn’t completely alert? Hmm, maybe just one.

Two minutes later morning came and my zombie-like guests were out the door.

I called my husband to tell him the coast was clear. “Okay, you can come back. The girls are gone.”

“Oh, we would, but we’re still waiting for a table.  Apparently they have this fantastic brunch here.”

As I was about to respond I glanced over at my daughter, already asleep on the couch. Finally, I had a quiet house.

“That’s nice, dear. You take your time.”

— Kristen Hansen Brakeman

Los Angeles essayist and blogger Kristen Hansen Brakeman has published pieces in the Huffington PostWashington Post, Working Mother Magazine, LA Parent, Christian Science Monitor, Orange County Register, as well as  posts in Scary Mommy and the New York Times Parenting blogs. This piece is excerpted from a parenting collection called Martinis and Motherhood. She’s currently searching for an agent for her collection of essays, Where to Dump a Dead Body and Other Life Lessons.

Bedtime snack

Panda ElderI am a sucker for large crusty boogers.

Very few boundaries exist between young children and their parents, so I hope it’s understandable that I’ve wanting to pick the perfectly crispy mass that occupied my three-year-old’s right nostril all day. I casually asked him if I could a couple times throughout the day. He shut me down on each occasion. I don’t know what’s up with him, but he’s actually not into nose-picking at all. He just wanted it to stay there.

Tonight we were climbing into bed to read his bedtime stories, and that nose dweller caught my eye again. I knew this was my last chance to get it, and I just really couldn’t let him go to bed like that. It could have interfered with optimal breathing. But mostly I just wanted a certain type of weird satisfaction. So I explained, “Jav, you have this really big booger in your nose. Let’s get it.” He giggled. I took that as somewhat of an invitation. I put my finger in quickly and said, “There it is!” as I tried to scoop it. He pulled away, but he was still laughing. I tried to get him to feel it, but he wanted nothing to do with it.

“Come on. Let me get it. I need a bedtime snack.”

Oh my goodness. He laughed so hard when I said that. I love this age of making jokes that he gets and appreciates. It really was a preposterous notion because as badly as I wanted to see that baked boog exit his nose, I have NEVER been an eater. Even as a kid, I may have tasted one once or twice, but putting them in my mouth was not for me.

Since laughter was rolling, and he didn’t feel too assaulted by my finger in his nostril, I tried again, this time with a little more determination to get it. And get it, I did. It was like a pea-sized pebble, and it was every bit as gratifying and I hoped it would be.

I was so excited that I said, “Let’s show, Daddy!” I jumped up from the bed and walked to the banister of the stairs. I called down, “Daddy, look!” I reached out my pincer grasp, and he cupped his hands in preparation to receive something. I dropped the booger down, and it landed perfectly in his hand-cradle.

He gave it a wee bit of acknowledgement then flicked it across the floor.

I know. We are disgusting. Is every family like this or are we weird?

Come over tomorrow for a game of Find the Booger in the dining room. Winner gets a handful of candy corn.

— Panda Elder

Panda Elder is an elementary teacher, turned stay-at-home mom to two boys. She describes herself as a hot mess who relies on coffee and wine. She stays up too late writing about the good, the bad and the ugly of motherhood on her blog.

MLB Playoffs “will be erased like a blackboard”

 

Charles HartleyStop obsessing about yourself and mint chocolate ice cream.

The Major League Playoffs are not about you. They are about America, the Stars and Stripes, Lady Liberty, Tojam Football and Walrus GumBoot.

You must conform and come together, right now, over me.

Our country demands that its citizens follow orders. You must watch these five-hour baseball games, two hours of which are TV commercials. Do your civic duty by subjecting yourself to American capitalism and opportunism. This is our nation’s secular religion: baseball. Advertising is our mortal sin.

Shut up and watch the ads. This is not about you. It’s about author Terrance Mann, cornfield owner Kevin Costner and an Iowa baseball field filled with 1920s baseball players long since deceased.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball,” says Mann. “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Get sappy. Feel nostalgia. Believe all could be good again even if you’re skeptical. Wipe your moist eyes with a handkerchief. Cry yourself to sleep.

This is the time of year when the air chills like a Coke can in ice water, and the players wear undershirts with long sleeves to keep their arms warm on those autumn nights. This is the time of year when football games distract us from baseball games. Yet as the playoffs progress, we start spending more of our time watching baseball. We wait and see if someone will crack a home run. We all want to see a home run. It is the heart and soul of baseball.

There is nothing more interesting and important about baseball than home runs.

You need to get over your pro-football, anti-baseball bias. Be glad Fantasy Baseball doesn’t exist so you don’t have to read a Sammy Sportface blog about how those fantasies ruined baseball and we should, therefore, shut down baseball from sea to shining sea.

Baseball is a bore most of the time.

This is not that time.

These are the playoffs. And after this comes the World Series.

Just imagine: In this country 100 years ago people were eager to track the World Series, which was also played then during this same foreboding time of year that signals the end of leaves on trees and another four months into the Ice Age hiding in our igloos.

For those who don’t understand baseball, it has to be as dull as cardboard. For those who have watched hundreds of innings the game, it is an intellectual treasure chest, a game of Chess, Checkers and Chutes and Ladders compounded by the uncertainties of human error and hand-eye coordination that varies imperceptibly but importantly among all the players.

Those who have it, have it. Those who don’t, can’t hit.

Watching a baseball game is like walking into a library and seeing all those books and thinking about all the thought that has gone into writing those books.

Here’s my final tip: sit down, eat a hot dog covered with mustard, and watch Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon teach you about life.

There is no one in sports with a personality more colorful and fascinating as his. Joe Mad doesn’t believe in thinking or living conventionally. He does what he feels like doing and coaches the way he feels like coaching. His players love him for that. Original people are loved.

Joe will lead the Cubs to their first World Series since the Romans dominated the world.

Then you will appreciate baseball more than you ever have.

— 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.

Hairista

Aline.WeillerI’m obsessed with my hair. Or so I’ve been told. I was blessed with wavy, curly and sometimes frizzy hair, which has worked both for and against me, depending on the decade.

Much like my unique name, my hair is part of my brand. I’ve always followed and emulated hip hairstyle trends — some I’m proud to have pulled off; others not so much. Let me explain.

Most people have heroes; I have hairos. That’s right, my icons are those with amazing hair. Sure, if they’ve won the Pulitzer Prize, all the better, but they’ve gotta bring it when it comes to good hair. My earliest fascination was with the flowing blonde strands of Maureen McCormick, a.k.a. Marcia Brady. I brushed my own long locks 100 times each night, like her television persona claimed to, but unfortunately, developed tennis elbow in the process.

My next adolescent crush was on Farrah Fawcett’s signature mane. Although brunette, I had to have that feathered hair and brought the “Charlie’s Angels” edition of People Magazine to the salon to get it. Then labored each morning to blow dry each side of my unruly hair to fly back into symmetrical wings. My mom recalls a rainy day could throw me into a tween funk.

And how can I dismiss my Dorothy Hammil ‘doo? An upscale bowl cut, it suited me through high school as it went swimmingly with my cheerleading uniform and gymnastics garb.

Which brings me to the ’80s, a decade I simply cannot gloss over. It was my finest or worst hour — I’ve yet to decide. All I know is that my natural hair’s time had come; I could finally let my curly hair flag fly. My college hair products were many, a collection comprised of sought-after gels and sprays, promising the highest hair and most extreme hold. I had them all. My bangs have yet to forgive me for being moussed into frozen, upward spikes for a minimum of four years.

After graduation, I caught wind of “the bob,” thanks to Teri Hatcher’s sophisticated style on TV’s “Lois & Clark.” Neat and sleek, it was a polished look for my entry-level publishing job and twentysomething weekends in the Hamptons.

But before long, it was time to embrace the First Hair Cut — that of famed “Friends” star, Jennifer Aniston. I lived in Manhattan and yearned to be the seventh “Friend,” sipping designer coffee in Greenwich Village with her character, Rachel, and the gang. Though high-maintenance, “The Aniston” was a keeper throughout my young adulthood.

The mommy years were somewhat of a blur in regard to coiffing. All I wanted was a ponytail elastic to keep my hair away from spit up and other fluids associated with babies. I used maternity leave to grow out my layers, way beyond shoulder length. It was then I discovered blowouts. The thought of escaping life with a newborn and toddler for someone else to wash and style my hair was just too good to turn down. I got hooked and still am. In fact, I’m a serious salon enthusiast. My blowout career was launched with a full-on pin straight style a la Demi Moore, the post-Bruce Willis years. It was my hallmark, until one of my many go-to girls suggested volume.

“You need more movement. You know, soft waves to frame your face,” Lilly said.

I converted. Now I’m all about big hair. With blowout bars cropping up on every corner, I have my pick of stylists to pin curl me into perfection. They give me a roller set the likes of which my grandmother — and her mother — would have fancied. And fancy it I do. Simply put, this movement thing rocks.

My hairo of late would be a cross between “J. Lo” and super model, Giselle. When I’m not going “Hollywood,” I aim for tousled, just-rolled-out-of-bed beach waves. To get that look, I tap a fleet of stylists, my motto being: may the best blowout win. I admit it, I’m a frequent dryer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m good with my God-given waves — which come in mighty handy in humidity, convertibles and on the beach. It’s just that for me, a good hair day goes a very long way.

— Aline Weiller

Aline Weiller’s essays have been published on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog, Brain, Child Magazine, Skirt, Mamalode, Club Mid, Better After 50 and Scary Mommy, among others. She’s also the founder/CEO of the public relations firm, Wordsmith, LLC, based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Aline especially enjoys weaving pop culture references into her work. Follow her on Twitter.

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.

Reflections of Erma