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Trouble’s on the menu

Jerry ZezimaWhen I was 16, I got my first job. I was, improbably, a waiter at the now-defunct Parkway Deli in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.

In pretty short order, even though I wasn’t pretty or even a short-order cook, I was fired for what I must admit were two very good reasons: I ate the place out of knishes every day for lunch and, in case you are wondering why the deli went under, I was incompetent.

After a hiatus of 46 years, I recently got back into the service industry by working as a waiter at the Modern Snack Bar in Aquebogue, New York.

I came up with the potentially disastrous idea after my wife, Sue, and I had dinner at the popular family-style restaurant and were waited on by Anilee Bishop, who deserves a medal, or at least a raise, for being my mentor when I returned a couple of weeks later to see if I could drive yet another eatery into the ground.

I arrived at the worst possible time — a busy Saturday night — with Sue; our younger daughter, Lauren; our son-in-law Guillaume; and our granddaughter, Chloe.

“Are you ready to go to work?” asked Anilee, who seated us in the large rear dining room.

“Yes,” I said confidently, promising that I would spare the place the humiliation of having me on staff by waiting my own table.

“If anybody in your family is as tough a customer as you are, you’re going to be in trouble,” said Anilee, adding that she was fired from her first waitressing job for spilling water all over the silk dress of a rich lady in the Hamptons. “It was my first day,” she recalled. “And my last.”

But Anilee, 30, the mother of two toddlers who also has been a photojournalist and studied to be a nurse, is still in the service industry and has been waitressing at the Modern Snack Bar for seven years. She always assures customers that the restaurant’s famous grasshopper pie “doesn’t contain real grasshoppers” and likes to tell “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup” jokes to amused diners.

The first thing Anilee did, aside from bringing out menus, which I forgot to do (“You’re falling down on the job already,” she said), was to hand me a pad on which to write down orders. Then she gave me an apron with a large pocket so I could store the pad, a pen and whatever else (straws, napkins, extra spoons) I would need to be a competent waiter and, I fervently hoped, earn a generous tip.

“Don’t forget to fill the water glasses,” said Anilee, making sure that I poured water from “the side of the pitcher, not the spout” and that I turned away from my customers so I wouldn’t get them wet.

“Nobody’s wearing a silk dress,” I pointed out.

“This is going to be a long night,” Anilee murmured.

After taking orders (chicken fingers for Chloe, a Caesar salad for Lauren, a turkey sandwich for Guillaume, crab cakes for Sue and a hamburger for me, even though I wasn’t supposed to eat while working), I showed the pad to Anilee, who said, “I’ll have to rewrite this so the cook and the grill chef know what you mean.”

She took me to the kitchen, which is in the back, and to the grill, which is in the front, and translated my chicken scratch (which isn’t on the menu) into official restaurant code.

While dinner cooked, I refilled the water glasses, not only for my table (B10), but for the nice couple, Lois and Barry, at the next table (“This is the best water I’ve ever tasted!” Lois exclaimed) and for three women, Karen, Carol and Karen, at another table.

“We love you!” Carol said.

“Yes,” agreed one of the Karens. “But you really have to pick up the pace.”

Soon, dinner was ready. I didn’t dare try to balance all those plates on my arm for fear that I’d create a scene worthy of the Three Stooges, so I brought them out, one in each hand, and placed them on the table.

“Boneless appetit!” I said.

Then I sat down to eat and remarked on the good service. Because it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full, nobody agreed.

Later, I brought out dessert, which included grasshopper pie for Sue and Lauren (I repeated Anilee’s joke, but again there was no response) and ice cream for Chloe, 3, who chirped, “Thank you, Poppie!”

At least she appreciated my efforts.

So, actually, did Sue, Lauren and Guillaume, who acknowledged that I tried my best. Sue even left me a nice tip, which went into the till for Anilee and the other servers, all of whom work hard and are unfailingly cheerful and efficient.

“You may need a little more training,” Anilee said when my shift was over, “but you didn’t do a bad job.”

“And we’re still in business,” said John Wittmeier, who with his brother, Otto, co-owns the Modern Snack Bar, which has been in the family since 1950. “Even you couldn’t ruin us. But just to be safe,” he added with a grateful smile, “don’t quit your day job.”

— 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 Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave 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 the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Sittin’ ugly

scan0057-1-copyIn the early morning hours, before anyone else is up, while the cat is still stretching languidly in her chair, I begin my day.

In this quiet early hour I can hear the thud of the newspaper being thrown on the sidewalks, the coffeemaker finishing the last few drops and the tick of our clock on the mantle. This is my selfish hour. This is my cherished solitude. I must have it!! This is my time to drink my coffee and absolutely, unequivocally “sit ugly.”

Sittin’ ugly is a family tradition passed on by my 88-year-old Auntie Sue. Her mother did it, she does it and now I do it. I’m sure lots of other people on earth are doing it, but to do it correctly is an art. The art of sittin’ ugly is learned and perfected through years of practice. There are rules of course, and above all, one must respect another’s right to sit ugly. There should be no judgment about sittin’ ugly. The fact is, one just simply does…sit ugly. No judgment, no shame.

Everyone has their own way to sit ugly. But there are guidelines that I find very comforting and helpful to follow. Anyone that is new to the art will surely want to comply. The rules are as follows:

There must be coffee. Preferably freshly brewed with everything extra that you need, (cream, sugar etc.) and of course the favorite mug. I’ve never known a tea drinker to sit ugly, but I suppose it could be done.

1. No talking!! No one speaks to you — you speak to no one. Sometimes it may be necessary to point or grunt especially if you have small children and they absolutely must encroach on your time. But the only talking truly allowed is to yourself.

2. You must sit. My favorite spot is an oversized chair by the window. Above all else, you must pick a comfortable, familiar place to sit. It is always good to be able to put up your feet and have a little table nearby. Your sittin’ area should be away from anyone else who might be awake.

3. You may be asking yourself, now what? I have the coffee. I’m sitting quietly. Now what? The “what” to do part is really up to you. Sometimes I just sit and stare while sipping my coffee. Staring is perfectly allowable and even encouraged. I also read my daily devotionals and have long conversations with God. I contemplate my day and my life. I think. I don’t think and then I may stare some more, all the while continuing to drink my coffee. This part may go on for a long as necessary. One hour is perfect for me.

4. Lastly, about this “ugly” part. Sittin ugly simply means that you come as you are, straight from bed. No primping allowed! One must be one’s self. Tattered nighty? That’s ok! Acne medicine dotted on your face? Beautiful! Scruffy old favorite robe and slippers? The older the better! Sittin’ ugly is actually a supernatural phenomenon that makes you more good looking. The longer time you have to sit, the better you will look and feel. Try it and see!

Sittin’ ugly is my personal time. It is my favorite time of the day. Sometimes I can hardly wait to get up in the morning just to sit ugly. I am always at my best while sittin’ ugly, mainly because no one is speaking to me or me to them. What a joyous, peaceful time! What a perfect way to start your day.  In fact, for me, it is a necessity.

Some mornings my little Auntie will call me and ask, “Honey, are you sittin’ ugly or can you talk?” It is always good manners to ask first in case one is not fit for conversation.

So here’s to “sittin’ ugly,” to having this special time each and every day and to the millions of us who find it necessary for the sustainment of sanity. Here’s to my precious Auntie Sue and all the beautiful ones who “sit ugly.”

— Nancy Malcolm

Nancy Malcolm is a true southern woman, who believes in the southern way. Like, its never too soon to write a thank-you note; everyone should own a deviled egg plate; and good manners often take you where neither education nor money can. And she definitely believes no one ever outgrows the need for a mother’s love. She blogs at sittinuglysistahs.wordpress.com and soulspeak2016.wordpress.com.

The emptying nest

DONNA FENTANESI’m not at the official empty nest season yet; I still have a couple perched to fly as well as a couple still needing nesting. But many of my birds have, indeed, flown. The season has started.

In 2005, when we left our home in San Pablo to live in El Sobrante, all 10 were under the same roof. One birdie flew away for a bit, but came back, bringing a new bird to our family. He nested with the brothers. So for a time, the nest held 11 chicks. The nest was hustling and bustling with all the chicks and their friends.There was a constant band playing from the garage, little kids running after chickens in the yard, fighting, bickering, eating, laughing…our last time as a family together. For me, those three years were a refuge from the dark times we left. Getting ready for the three holiday seasons we spent there was the funniest part of the year.

“I miss you most of all, my darling(s) when autumn leaves start to fall.”

In 2008, circumstances  caused this nest to be vacated, to be vacated immediately. That was the last time all my birds were together. Two birds moved away from me. I took eight with me to the Peninsula. But eventually, two more would fly away, and for awhile I had six. But the carousel goes round and round; two more would graduate. Then a third. One flew off last year, and another moved elsewhere this spring. We are down to four. Two of them are adults, perched. I’m not going to nudge them like a good mother eagle would do.

I don’t know how I did all that. I don’t think I did it (mothering) very well. But I know I loved it. I loved the little kids, the craziness, the boundless energy, the joy in the midst of pain. I loved them. I still do. But I miss them most of all when autumn leaves begin to fall.

As poignant and nostalgic I sometimes get, I have learned these past few years not to fear the future. I have been raising kids for almost 30 years. For 30 years that has been my primary purpose. I can start to see beyond this purpose, and I’m not sure what lies in that territory. But I trust the Lord to guide and provide. Maybe I’ll go back to Europe for a spell before the carousel slows to a stop. Maybe. I don’t seem to fear my fears so much anymore.

“Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”
Isaiah 43:19, NASB

— Donna Fentanes

Donna Fentanes is a mother of 10 kids living in Northern California. The name of her blog, From the Shoe, was swiped from Cheaper By The Dozen’s Lillian Gilbreth’s summer newsletter. The “shoe” reference is to the children’s nursery rhyme. She mixes humor and philosophical musings with everyday events.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Jan MarshallThe yearly pitch for changing insurance carriers has arrived to coax us from one company covering nothing I need (prostate practitioner?) to others whose plan does not include even one of my preferred doctors, especially Dr. Love.

Hopefully I won’t have to return to my own physician whose specialty is Recommendology. He doesn’t actually treat. He calls everything a virus, which is Latin for “I don’t know what the hell you have.”

He simply checks his computer and then recommends a colleague from his own original country of origin.

Still, I manage to generally stay healthy; well, except for the fall, which gave me an opportunity to pick up items on the floor that I dropped months ago and could not otherwise bend to retrieve.

Life works out well, don’t you think?

Oh, wait. There was the incident of the headache that led to the cast on my arm and the nervous breakdown.

One morning after an extremely festive evening, my head ached. I reached for an aspirin and couldn’t open the childproof jar even after pressing down and aligning the arrow as the teeny directions suggested.  I fumed and twisted and then accidentally banged my arm against the sink.

Luckily my little granddaughter came by after kindergarten, opened the bottle and then texted (50 words per minute!) and found the nearest emergency room and sent me on my way.

The room was mobbed, so I took a number; 72 to be exact, which gave me time to observe the crowd.

One woman saw her medical form menu of choices and mumbled, “allergies, heart, ear, nose, gums?…and then she sang, “All of Me. Why Not Take All of Me?” We all sympathized and hummed along.

One man who evidently had been waiting a very long time called the receptionist at the desk in the room and asked to speak to the urologist. She said, “Please hold” and he shouted expletives and said if he could hold, he wouldn’t be in the emergency room!

I am fed up with my current medical programs. I think I will return to the psychic who said I would meet a tall dark stranger…who would remove my gall bladder.

I hope he and any man is aware of my strict personal dating rules. I never allow a gent to shave my back until the third date. Well, usually anyway.

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall has devoted her life’s work to humor and healing through books, columns and motivational speaking. As founder of the International Humor & Healing Institute, she worked with board members Norman Cousins, Steve Allen and other physicians and entertainers, including John Cleese. Her newest satirical survival book, Dancin’ Schmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! is dedicated to Wounded Warriors, Gabrielle Giffords and Grieving Parents. She donates a percentage of the profits to these organizations as well as to the American Cancer Society and the American Brain Tumor Association.

Extra! Extra! Extra!

Paul_Lander(These pieces originally appeared in Huff Post Comedy. Reposted by permission of the author.) 

Happy 50th Star Trek: ‘Star Trek vs. Rocky: The Wrath of Arthritis’ Announced

Big announcement just confirmed as part of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary celebration. In the tradition of Godzilla versus King Kong, the teaming of two giant film franchises was announced in what the studio hopes will be the blockbuster — “Star Trek vs. Rocky: The Wrath of Arthritis.”

Although script details remain hush-hush, a source reports it all begins when Captain Kirk and crew pay a visit to Rocky’s Philadelphia, only to get into legal trouble when they forget to shut off the turn signal light on the Star Ship Enterprise. Rocky takes offense to this “dissing” of his hometown, and the ensuing drama culminates with Rocky, despite hip replacement surgery, making his way, one last time, up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Reports indicate that multiple corporate sponsors have signed lucrative product placement deals. In fact, a spokesman for Pfizer announced that its popular ED drug Viagra would play a prominent role in the film. “Let’s just say,” the spokesman said, “The term ‘beam Me Up, Scotty’ will take on all kinds of new meaning.”

Trump/Pence Against Spanish Inquisition for Not Being English Only

After meeting Mexico’s President Nieto, to show their resolve and draw a strong line against illegal immigration, the Trump/Pence campaign came out against the Spanish Inquisition for not being English Only.

Trump said this was his toughest call so far in his run for the White House, but that because the Bible’s in English, so should be any torture, coercion or persecution in its name. He added, “Believe me. We’ll have the best torture. It’ll be huge. Believe me. Huge.”

Trump/Pence campaign surrogate and a self described ‘cradle Catholic’ New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, speaking for the Trump/Pence campaign, said, “We’ve come a long way from those times, and a lot of so-called tortures should now be used to keep marriages together.” Adding, “There’s nothing like a good flaying or a few cracks of the whip to add spice to a marriage, as long as it’s done in English.”

Due to missteps on message between Governor Pence and Mr. Trump, Governor Pence did add: “As a supporter of former President Bush, I believe he did the enhanced interrogation thing right. Except where he didn’t. So I agree where he was right and don’t where he wasn’t. That is, by the way, my position on all things. Except when it isn’t. What were we talking about again?”

A-Rod Announces Retirement From Yankees, Enters Santa Anita Derby

After a stellar and controversy-fueled career in Major League Baseball, New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez announced his retirement. Bidding farewell to the game, he, once again, apologized to teammates, fans and strangers who happen to be passing by for taking banned substances.

In fact, A-Rod admitted to years of taking Trenbolone, a steroid usually taken by thoroughbred horses. Now that his playing days are over, he confirmed he has returned to taking the drug and will attempt to fulfill a lifelong dream to run in the Santa Anita Derby. When asked how long he thought it would take to prepare for such a grueling challenge, A-Rod replied by stomping his foot six times on the ground, each stomp representing one month.

In related news, A-Rod’s plans caused Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to file paperwork claiming a desire to change their names to Full Count Fleet and Giant California Chrome Dome, respectively.

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written stand-up material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in Huff Post Comedy, McSweeney’s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month.”

First world injury

Molly StevensSo what exactly is a first world injury?

When I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop last April, I had an injury in the hotel room. As I opened the heavy hotel curtain wielding the drapery pull rod, I bonked myself on the face.

It hurt and I examined myself for welts wondering how I would explain to my fellow writers what happened. Then I imagined this scenario.

Excited to start another day of learning and laughter at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Molly bounded out of bed and reached for the log attached to the curtain to unveil a glorious new day.

Thwack!

It was curtains for her consciousness as she sagged to the floor in a heap.

Meanwhile, Molly’s new friend Lee was pacing as the last shuttle bus was leaving in five minutes. “Where can Molly be? I bet she stayed in the bar for three hours after I went to bed and she’s nursing a hangover. I don’t think it would be wrong for me to go to the workshop without her; after all, I just met her. Why should I miss a lecture because of her irresponsibility?”

Alas, even though Lee has many shallow qualities that drew her and Molly together as friends, her conscience prevailed and she reluctantly pushed the elevator “up” button to investigate.

She knocked on the door and heard a groan. At first, she thought it confirmed her suspicion about Molly’s late evening revelry but her mother instincts told her it could be an expression of pain.

She knew her new friend was klutzy from the moment they met when Molly ran to give her a hug, tripped and knocked her into a potted plant. It wouldn’t have been so nettlesome, but it was a cactus.

Lee panicked and called hotel security. “I need you to check on the person staying in room 635. I think she is having a medical emergency.”

In a flash, a hotel official unlocked the door to find Molly lying in a puddle of humiliation with the imprint of the drapery pull rod on her forehead. Lee screamed, “Oh my God! It’s a first world injury! Call 911!”

So what exactly is a first world injury?

I found this definition in the Urban Dictionary:

“An injury most likely to occur in an advanced first world country due to the high standard of living. Example: Karma suffered a first world injury walking into a dumpster while tweeting on her smart phone.”

I began to chronicle my traumas in the context of privileged circumstances.

• Applied hypoallergenic mascara, missed lashes and injured eye.
• Thumbed through a Pottery Barn catalog and incurred paper cut.
• Fell off spin bike and sprained ankle.
• Waved hand over steam vent of rice cooker and sustained burn.
• Fished lipstick out from under front seat of car and wrenched shoulder.
• Chopped shallots for Steak Diane and cut fingernail.
• Pulled an excessively dry cork from a wine bottle that had been stored incorrectly and bruised nose.
• Slipped with the box cutter when unpacking special order French roast coffee and slashed arm.
• Poked a touch screen repeatedly and developed tendonitis of index finger.
• Hopped on a hammock, flipped onto ground and scraped elbow.
• Ate microwave popcorn and broke tooth. While watching Netflix.
• Opened dishwasher and bruised shin.
• Failed to reapply #50 sunscreen and exposed unprotected skin to sun. While waiting in line at Disney World. Because I ran out of Fast Passes.

I know I should feel irritated about these boo-boos spawned from a first world lifestyle, but instead I find myself with a strange sense of gratitude, realizing these are small prices to pay for a luxurious existence.

— Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk, but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She blogs at www.shallowreflections.com, where she skims over important topics, like her love affair with white potatoes and why she saves user manuals.

Karin Esterhammer

Travel writer Karin Esterhammer has published a captivatingly funny travel memoir about a Los Angeles family who moves to Vietnam to ride out the Great Recession, So Happiness to Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam.

Her work has been published in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and other outlets. Her diary-style article in the Los Angeles Times about the move to Vietnam earned more letters to the editor than almost any other travel story.

Pilgrimage

From her childhood on an Iowa farm, Lori Erickson grew up to travel the world as a writer specializing in holy sites — journeys that led her on an ever-deepening spiritual quest. In Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God, she weaves her personal narrative with descriptions of a dozen pilgrimages. Travel writer, Episcopal deacon and author of the Holy Rover blog at Patheos, Erickson is an engaging guide for pilgrims eager to take a spiritual journey.

Reflections of Erma