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Clutter village

Jan MarshallWhat do ribbons yo yo’s and dental floss have in common?  They are all knotted together in the same drawer in a dwelling known as the Marshall’s Fibber and McGee house .

While I have a place for everything, I do not really know where that place is. Whenever I need to find a household item, I do a Google search but never get an answer. Even Siri, my iPhone assistant, refuses to find my stuff though I graciously loaned her my magic moisterzer SPF 80.

I long for a day when every item in the universe has its own beeper that I can click on to appear in the room that I am in.

When I do find something that looks familiar, I am clueless what it is for. On the coldest day of winter, when the heater key was missing, I could remember that item but not where I put it. So I’d sing the words to Frozen as I searched.

I truly love order. I crave it. But while everyone talks about organizing for spring, nobody mentions the alien Martian devils that come through my doors in the dark of night, sneak in and throw assorted documents around my place.

A magazine survey asked women how they felt about housework. The majority said “Bleckkk!” The others were too weak from laughter to respond. Straightening up is like putting beads on a string without a knot at the end. It is an endless job. So in order to get through maintaining my mansion, I developed a timeless stress-relieving, reframing technique. I hypnotize myself to believe that my home is a museum. Therefore, I need to leave everything out for display for the paying public.

To those perfectionists who continue to judge, what about this kindhearted excuse, I mean explanation? Papers piled high, documents hither and yon, scattered clothing and topless jars are being sorted to send to the poor people who have lost everything playing Bridge and Angry Bird. What can I do? My legal name is Joan of Arc.

Please address your thank you notes to Saint Jan.

Oh, may I suggest the next time you visit me, forgot the hostess gift. Instead, please bring me a pair of thigh-high boots. It’s a just a silly health department thing. But really, bring it!

— 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.

The day my leg almost ‘sploded

Lee GaitanI’ve had several dogs in my life, each with its own idiosyncrasies.

There was the one who collected used Q-tips, the one who was afraid of wallpaper and the one who snatched a wedge of cheese right off the serving tray in the middle of a dinner party, generously leaving his half-chewed bone in its place. But until now I’ve never had a dog who tried to detonate one of my limbs. Enter Harper, our recently adopted Labrador mix. Mixed with what is anyone’s guess, but my money is on unbridled lunacy.

The first time we took Harper to the park, he jerked the leash out of my husband’s hand, leapt into the lake and attempted to navigate its full length and breadth for 45 minutes, oblivious to our frantic commands — accompanied by wild arm-flapping — to return to shore.

That’s when I got the bright idea to attach a long rope to his harness, allowing him to swim while enabling us to reel in his defiant little behind if necessary. My husband fastened the other end of the rope around his waist and we were in business.

The plan was working well until Harper spotted another dog back on the shore. Faster than you can say “Marley and Me,” Harper launched himself out of the water and lunged in the direction of the other dog, pulling the rope tight and lashing it like a high tension wire against the back of my leg. I collapsed, yelping in pain, as my husband, propelled forward by the semi-airborne Harper, stumbled past me.

My leg instantly began swelling like a water balloon and turning a deep shade of purple. It looked as if my calf were giving birth to an overweight eggplant. I watched in horror as an engorged, steel-blue vein violently pulsated while my skin strained to contain it. I swore I could hear my skin stretching.

My formerly well-spoken Colombian husband took one look at my leg and suddenly began channeling Ricky Ricardo. “Oh my God, baby, I ‘theenk’ is going to ‘splode!’” he exclaimed.

“Oh dear God, can that actually happen?” I cried.

Off we sped to the E.R. where the doctor, barely suppressing his amusement at the circumstances of my injury, had some “splainin’” to do to allay our fears. Despite the rope rupturing approximately 1.7 billion capillaries, he determined no real damage had been done. My leg would not, he assured us, “splode.” It would, however, resemble an overstuffed sausage for quite some time.

Since the rope incident, I’ve caught Harper gazing longingly at my leg on more than one occasion. Surely, he wouldn’t confuse my leg with a real sausage, would he? Ay, ay, ay, I can just imagine myself “splainin’” that one at the E.R.

— Lee Gaitan

Lee Gaitan is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead and My Pineapples Went to Houston — Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She also has written a chapter in the bestselling book, The Divinity of Dogs. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Better After 50, Mothers Always Write, Midlife Boulevard, Fab Over Fifty and The Good Men Project.  She lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and dog and blogs at Don’t Just Bounce, Bounce Back. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Confessions of a bathroom predator

Dear Politicians Drafting Bathroom Bills,

Claudia Gryvatz CopquinLook, I can’t speak for all women but I am. We thank you for your concern. Frankly, in all my years using public restrooms, it never crossed my feeble female mind that a predator could be lurking by the hand dryer, ready to strike as I obsessive compulsively check and recheck my fly (if not for that one time in fifth grade…).

But I confess: I was a bathroom predator once. We were dining at Nobu in Manhattan, my husband and I. Word on the street had it that notorious BFF Gayle King was holding court in a back room of that very establishment that very night. Gayle King — just one degree of separation from the Big O, only steps away from me and my volcano roll! I get star struck; I had to have a looksee.

I sauntered over to the rear of the restaurant ever – so — slowly, disheartened at seeing nothing as I made my way to the ladies’ room, which unlike my Lilliputian bladder, was empty. Moments later, just as I was heading to the sink, the door opened and in walked a coughing, statuesque goddess, who zeroed in on a stall. It was all I could do to contain myself.

“IT’S HER!!!” I hollered internally. Then, “No, it can’t be!” Then, “IS IT??”

“I can’t get this faucet turned on,” I said out loud to no one in particular except Gayle King, who was peeing and sneezing just inches away, behind the door.

That was true, not just a clever stalling device. A lifelong feeble bladder has turned me into an emergency restroom connoisseur:  Short of squatting between parked cars, I say with confidence I can pindrop a “secret” New York City toilet like nobody’s business (number one AND number two).  The cans, I’ve got covered. But figuring out faucet mechanics and their myriad, newfangled variations is a legit stressor. (Does the handle work up or down? Where is the handle? Oh, this one has motion sensory? Then why isn’t the water flowing — are my hands too high, too low?)

“Yeah, this one’s tricky,” said the phlegmy voice within the stall.

“I know, right?” I countered smartly, as she blew her nose.

Fumbling nervously, I finally located the switch and deliberated by repeatedly lathering and scrubbing my hands with the vigor of a surgeon heading into the OR. Meanwhile, I could tell the woman in the stall was, well — stalling as long as was humanly possible for a person of her frame and stature in 2 x 2 square feet of space.

“She thinks I’m a crazed fan,” I thought, as I briskly scoured my fingers one by one until all 10 were sparkling, and then launched into the process all over again. I had to know if it was Gayle King, and I was going to win this pissing contest if I had to scour my hands raw!

Sure enough, with nothing further to occupy herself with, she finally flushed, exited the stall and swiftly washed her hands. I was still going at it, too — as evidenced by the small pool of blood now floating down the drain. And just when she was ready to make her escape —

“ARE YOU GAYLE KING??” I shouted, as she was sliding out the door.

“I am,” she said, and like the crazed fan she had taken me for, I fumbled for her hand, accidently grabbing her pinky instead, shaking it up and down manically. Gayle King wrenched it free, running off in a tizzy.

You’ll be glad to know I was punished for my behavior, Politicians Drafting Bathroom Bills. Days later I caught Gayle King’s wretched cold — no small irony, given my excruciating hand washing.

So you’re right. Lavatory predators must be stopped in our tracks! Because I just can’t promise to hold back on a future victim. By the way, I hear Caitlyn Jenner’s in town. God help her if I run into her in the john — I’ll pounce on her faster than you can spell LGBT.

— Claudia Gryvatz Copquin

Claudia Gryvatz Copquin is a seasoned journalist, author and essayist, and the founder of Long Island’s first literary festival, Word Up: Long Island LitFest, now in its third year.

Should I forgive him?

Molly StevensAfter 24 years of marriage, my husband Patrick did something I’m not sure I can forgive. This will surprise anyone who knows him, since he is almost a saint. He is kind, patient and always willing to sprint the extra marital mile to make me happy.

What could he possibly have done that is unforgivable? Here’s what happened.

I was going through the credit card statement and saw a charge for oil-bronzed shower rings. I asked, “Did you order these?” and immediately panicked, thinking we were victims of identity theft. He replied (and I quote), “I made a unilateral decision to buy new rings.”

Let me give you some background. Several years ago when we I redecorated the bathroom, I chose a pine theme since we live in a pine forest in the Pine Tree State. I even clean the bathroom with Pine-sol. You can imagine my delight when I found adorable pine cone shower hooks (not rings) to unify the look.

It seems Patrick became exasperated about the way they detach from the rod with everyday use. Unbeknownst to me, he started cruising online bathroom accessory stores to find alternatives.

Since I am shallow, I have tolerated the inconvenience of reinstalling the shower curtain daily. My priority was maintaining a matching motif worthy of the cover of an L.L. Bean home catalog.

You might think I’d applaud Patrick’s courage and initiative. But if a butterfly flaps its wings in China and can cause a hurricane in Florida, what tempest could result when a husband starts making unilateral decisions? Decisions that his wife used to make, unilaterally?

If I let him off the hook, will this drop the curtain on our perfectly balanced power distribution? And what other unilateral decisions will he start making?

•Will I find mysterious Victoria’s Secret bags in my underwear drawer?
•Will he order MY meal in a restaurant of HIS choice?
• Will he book a vacation?
• Will he dictate our next Netflix series?
• Will he sneak out and buy generic shampoo?
• Will he insist I learn how to barbecue?

I broke into a sweat projecting a future where shared decision-making was the norm and decided to take a shower. I couldn’t help but notice that the new shower rings floated effortlessly across the rod. No snags. No hassle.

*sigh* St. Patrick strikes again.

— 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.

Doggone it.

Natalie CinelliA dog? Why would I get a dog at this stage of my life?

“But, you’ve got to see this dog. He is so cute and cuddly.” So said my son’s girlfriend, Roz. She owns a veterinary clinic and this little guy was brought in as a stray — no collar, no vaccines, no micro chips, nothing. A messy, matted hairball. “He’ll be adopted in no time,” she warned. Her staff named him “Bobby.”

Okay, so I drove to the clinic to check “Bobby” out. What can I say? He was adorable and he snuggled into my arms when I picked him up. He slid into my heart just the way Cosmo Kramer would always slide into Seinfeld’s apartment on the TV sitcom. And because “Bobby’s” hair was just as wild as Kramer’s, I renamed him Cosmo and brought him home.

We haven’t had a dog in our house in 20 years. Not since our sweet female yellow Labrador retriever died. How could we ever replace her? I used to call her my best baby. Why? “She licks my feet,” I explained to my daughter. “You and your brother don’t.”

My husband was not on board. “Don’t bring a dog home,” he said. But I couldn’t resist Cosmo’s charms. He was just so doggone cute.

He was also not house trained. “It’s only going to get worse,” my husband declared. He said this every time Cosmo peed in the house.

“No,” I told him. “It will get better. He’ll be trained.” I repeated this phrase to myself every time I cleaned up after one of Cosmo’s accidents. But then even I considered giving him up for adoption after wiping up one too many puddles.

My 7-year-old grandson’s Little League teammate fell in love with Cosmo when we brought him to a game. “Please can we take him home?” he pleaded with his mom.

“Maybe we should let your friend take Cosmo,” I said to my grandson. “He’s sad because his dog just died.”

“He’ll get over it,” he replied. “Cosmo stays with us.” And then, as if to prove his point, he took hold of Cosmo’s leash and ran with him toward the dugout.

How could I disappoint my grandson? How could I resist Cosmo’s adorable face?

“It’s only because you’re so cute that you’re still here,” I tell him as he snuggles with me on the couch.

My husband has grown to love him, too. Whenever he takes a nap, Cosmo is right there with him lying on top of his chest. The two of them snoring contentedly.

As for me, I knew for sure that Cosmo was a keeper the night he got up and was twirling on his hind legs while I was watching “Dancing With the Stars.” I had gotten up to dance along to a Kenny Loggins’ song. And Cosmo was dancing right along with me. My new dancing partner.

Both of us “footloose” and fancy free.

— Natalie Cinelli

Natalie Cinelli is a freelance writer who has had articles published in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and American Baby magazine. She wrote a humor column, “In a Nutshell,” for the Suburban News in Reading, Massachusetts. She also worked as a lifestyle editor and columnist for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Sharing the laughter

rajeanWant to experience (or relive) some of the high points of the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop?

Check out the workshop’s YouTube channel. We’ve posted seven new videos, including excerpts from keynote talks by Roy Blount Jr., Amy Ephron, Leighann Lord, and Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff. You can also enjoy Wendy Liebman’s stand-up opening at Attendee Comedy Night, excerpts from Gina Barreca’s Erma 101 session and a conversation with the Bombeck family, playwrights Allison and Margaret Engel and actress Barbara Chisholm following the one-woman play, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End. These segments on our YouTube channel join 14 stand-ups by brave, funny attendees who closed the workshop with humor and panache.

You can also peruse the joyful photos of attendees and images from the classroom, podium and dinner table of the talented writers who taught and inspired us.

Who needs Netflix? You can binge right here.

Yes, this IS my real job

Ever since my memoir Ketchup is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism was published, formerly pleasurable social gatherings feel like death by a thousand paper cuts. (Yes, that’s the title. You don’t like it? Oh, because tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable? Thanks, that’s helpful.) Next question?

Liane Carter

A writer! What have you written that I’ve read?

Beats me. What do you read?

Can you make any money doing that?

How’s that lawyering thing working out for you?

Is your book selling?

I’ll show you my tax returns if you show me yours.

Well, have you tried writing a bestseller? You should go on Oprah.

Hmm, hadn’t thought of that.

Can you send me a copy?

Right after the plumber fixes my sink for free.

My friend’s brother’s great aunt just finished a book and needs an agent. Can you give her yours?

Sure. While we’re at it, would you ask your boss to give a job to my cousin you’ve never met?

I’ve always wanted to write, but I’m too busy. Maybe when I retire.

Me, too. I’m going to take up brain surgery.

Hey, you can’t believe the life I’ve led, you should write your next book about me!

Are you Steve Jobs? Amelia Earhart? Moses? Then I don’t think so.

Could you read my manuscript and let me know what you think?

Doc, I’ve got a swollen tendon, could you take a look?

I’d love you to write for me! I can’t pay you, but it’ll be great exposure!

Writers die of exposure.

I don’t have time to read.

Too busy keeping up with the Kardashians?

I didn’t buy your book, I’m just going to borrow my friend’s copy.

I’m not ordering in your restaurant; I’ll just nibble something off my friend’s plate.

Haven’t read your book yet. I’ll have to let you know what I think.

As my Aunt Helen said when I told her I’d sold my second story to a national magazine: “I hope I like this one better than the first.”

I read your book. It’s well-written for a memoir.

As opposed to what? A ransom note?

Is your memoir based on your own life?

Why, no. It’s about my evil twin Lilith.

Do you ever write romances?

I bet you wouldn’t ask that if I were a man.

Are all writers alcoholic?

Yes. That’s why you’re meeting me at a cocktail party.

Aren’t most writers crazy?

Of course. Why any sane person would willingly closet herself for years at a time doing lonely, vein‑opening work with no guarantee of professional recognition or recompense is beyond me.

— Liane Kupferberg Carter

Liane Kupferberg Carter is the author of the memoir, Ketchup is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism, (yes, she knows tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable but that’s still the title) from Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Parents Magazine, PBS’s Next Avenue, Brain, Child, Scary Mommy and Purple Clover.

The other female in our bed

Janie EmausI would rather have come home from my spa weekend and discovered my husband in bed with another woman than with a two-month-old Labrador retriever curled between his legs.

The woman would have been gone within seconds.

As for that puppy? She was here to stay.

“Don’t you just love Ziva?” my daughter asked several days later, as I sprayed yet another carpet deodorizer promising to bring “pine freshness” onto our living room carpet. “Isn’t she adorable and fun?”

I didn’t find anything adorable about chewing up every paper product in our house: coasters, napkins, books. Or anything fun about moving items with the slightest hint of wood pulp to higher altitude.

“But you have to admit, Mom, a puppy is the best thing for Dad.”

On that I had to agree with my daughter.

The previous year had been tough for my husband. After being diagnosed with a rare brain tumor (ironically more prevalent in dogs), he survived an eight-hour surgery and then received his certificate from a seven-week radiation treatment.

During that period his best friend and business partner of three decades discovered he had liver cancer. He wasn’t so lucky.

After his friend’s passing my husband spent hours watching TV. He lost his passion for cooking. He quit playing his guitar. He hadn’t seen a sunrise or sunset in almost a year.

Once Ziva entered his life, everything changed.

During those first weeks, he got up every few hours to let her outside. I’d often find him in the morning stretched on a lounge with Ziva cuddled on his chest. The sun rising over the back fence signaled play time.

He began taking her for walks. He brought her to the pet store to pick out her collar and leash. He spared no expense on the finest puppy food. He took her to obedience school where he learned to obey her commands.

The TV went unwatched. Our kitchen became filled with savory aromas. In the evenings, we watched Ziva run circles through the backyard.

As the months progressed, Ziva grew from 20 to 50 pounds. Her culinary tastes expanded to include plastic such as gift cards, inhalers and pens. And for desert she loved stuffing. And I don’t mean the kind found inside a turkey.

There went our patio chairs, our swing cushions and her heart-shaped bed.

And little by little, there went my heart. How could I not love this precious puppy who had brought my husband back to me?

These days if you should enter our home in the evening, you’ll find all three of us in bed together. Snuggling, loving and taking care of each other.

— Janie Emaus

Janie Emaus believes that when the world is falling apart, we’re just one laugh away from putting it together again. She is the author of the time travel romance, Before the After, and the young adult novel, Mercury in Retro Love. This essay won an honorable mention in the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop writing competition. She has an essay in the best-selling humor anthology, You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth and is proud have been named a 2013 BlogHer Voice of the Year. To read more of Janie’s humor, you can find her every week In The Powder Room. To learn more about her crazy life, visit her website www.JanieEmaus.com.

Reflections of Erma