At the impressionable age of 17 I left the small town where I grew up to attend college in the big city. There I learned that movies weren’t just a convenient occasion to feel up a girl and, if she turned you down, to blow into your empty Milk Duds box and make a fart noise.
No, they were “films,” a form of entertainment that, when molded by a master director — an auteur — achieved the status of art.
At my college there were film societies for foreign films, contemporary films, documentary films — you name it. The people who ran these clubs dressed in black turtlenecks and wore berets — indoors! They talked about “tracking shots” and “jump cuts,” which I thought was a passing route run by a tight end. I was woefully behind in my knowledge of le cinema, but I got up to speed as fast as I could on the road to becoming a cineaste.
I boned up on Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. I watched the films of Indian director Satyajit Ray. I saw Orson Welles play Harry Lime in The Third Man, before Welles got so big the phone company gave him his own area code.
At the end of the school year I would return to my hometown to harvest fescue or haul ice. Believe it or not, I found it hard to squeeze my hard-earned knowledge of French New Wave directors into the conversation when we’d go out to lunch for chicken fried steak.
The contrast between the two cultures was striking — “decomboobulating” in the words of Bird Dog, a guy I worked with on one summer job. How could one live with such cognitive dissonance? And then came the epiphany — l’apercu — that helped give form to my summer leisure time. Why not apply the finely honed bullsh***ing skills I had picked up hanging around avant garde film fans to the Swamp Thing cinema that flourished all around me?
It isn’t easy to jump into the bog of Swamp Thing cinema. Like the early British films of Alfred Hitchcock, the prints have often deteriorated, and they are hard to find. Your local library or video store is unlikely to offer The Legend of Boggy Creek, whose heart-stopping slumber party scene ranks with the Rosebud shot in Citizen Kane: A gaggle of high school girls assemble in a mobile home for an evening of popcorn and cootie catchers, and are dreamily discussing who has cuter eyes, Joe Don or Gene Ray, when the hairy arm of the Boggy Creek monster busts through a window, spoiling all the fun!
But, you ask, what if my local adult extension school doesn’t offer a Le Cinema du Swamp course? How will I hold my own when somebody says “I found the denouement of The Swamp Thing Escapes anti-climactic, and the jute-and-epoxy costume unconvincing”?
Simple — take this quick and easy online Introduction to Swamp Thing Cinema! It’s pass-fail — continuing education credit may be available in some states.
Swamp Thing Returns: 3 1/2 gators. As every aficionado of le cinema du swamp knows, Swamp Things never die, they merely withdraw into the muck to lick their wounds. When they recover, they come back madder than ever. In this fine debut flick Roger Nelson, who went on to direct It Came From the Compost Heap, lures you into the ultimate horror with a succession of increasingly larger victims, from a baby chick to a miniature French poodle.
Beauty and the Swamp Thing: 3 gators. “Unga” is a misunderstood Swamp Thing who is befriended by a young woman after he picks a tick out of her hair. A worthy effort, but the plot is overpowered by the soundtrack, especially “Swamp Thing’s Love Theme.” The production numbers flag as the creatures flop their tails around a lackluster swamp set, giving the film a claustrophobic feel. I found myself wanting to hold my head under brackish swamp water until the film died a natural death.
Bride of Swamp Thing: 4 gators. This romantic comedy sends an important message: if abducted by a Swamp Thing, make the most of it! You may find love where you least expect it — the arms of a seven-foot-tall ape-like creature with day-old possum on its breath.
— 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.
While Meg has her own assortment of doggie quirks (number one of which is her singular devotion to Nicole to the extent that she will pine miserably by the front door until her raison d’être returns), the many annoyances of Maya are much more difficult to catalog.
We could talk about the “husky tumble weeds” that drift freely about the house requiring us to strap on a vacuum cleaner like the Ghostbusters and chase down the offending hairballs, or perhaps the way she sleeps on her back until roused by a convulsive burst of gagging snorts followed by a long series of sneezes.
But by far her single biggest doggie quirk is the fact that she’s not much of a dog at all. She doesn’t come when you call her, has not an ounce of loyalty and is driven solely by self-interest; basically, she’s a large, dumb cat. She is not a member of the family sharing our home. She is a ward of the state imprisoned within our house.
Given the choice, she’d run wild without a backwards glance. She plots constantly for her escape and has succeeded on multiple occasions. We’ve met more neighbors through prisoner exchange then we have from the PTA and block parties combined.
Unfortunately Maya comes equipped with both the old school dog tags and a sub-dermal GPS tracker that both direct the little convict back to our front door.
During one such prison break she was taken in by a nice family of dog lovers, including one little girl who was hoping and praying that Maya’s owners would never find her. How many times since then have I regretted picking her up or thought about going back to make a little girl’s dreams come true.
I thought about it when Maya peed all over the entryway the morning I was rushing out the door for a business trip. I thought about it when Maya started treating bathroom garbage cans as her own person smorgasbord. I thought about it when Maya got sick repeatedly all over the house, 90 percent of which landed predictably on carpet.
Now this last one brings us to the other joy that is Maya — the expense.
Being a husky she is already predisposed to have certain joint conditions, specifically in her hips, that require some additional expenses: supplements, medicine, therapeutic beds, a doggie walker with little tennis balls on the feet — you get the idea.
And I get it, too. I’m a dog lover, and dogs can be an important part of the family. But an animal that runs past your outstretched arms choosing the open road over your loving embrace does not embody the spirit of Ohana. I start to ask myself, “How much money do I want to invest in an apathetic animal?”
This was the dilemma when Maya started to have difficulty standing, then walking, and then the next day became a fountain of bile. Luckily our local vet is gracious enough to be open on Sundays so the first thing in the morning we brought Maya in for a checkup, knowing full well the potential money pit we were leaping into. Our worse fears were confirmed on both fronts, and after a $1000 visit, the radiologist suspected a possible tumor in the stomach and throughout the intestines.
Now, I wouldn’t be telling this story if it actually ended that horribly. I may not be organizing a Maya fan club, but I’m not completely heartless. Penniless perhaps, but not heartless.
So when the vet suggested we follow up with an ultrasound, we reluctantly agreed. I figured that since the diagnosis had no real treatment options, we at least owed it to her to get solid confirmation of her condition. In my mind, though, it was merely a formality.
For a fleeting moment my mind danced with the freedom of having a single dog. A loyal dog. An intelligent dog. Not a chain-sneezing flight risk. It was a world free of fur drifts, free of unpleasant surprises. It was a beautiful, peaceful, allergy-friendly world. And then it was gone.
After a $500 appointment with the ultrasound the very same tech that had, only the day before, condemned our overgrown furball to imminent doom gracefully back pedaled with a new theory that maybe it was just something she ate, like a lump of clay or an extra helping of toilet paper. The governor’s pardon on her supposed death sentence. The convict was coming home.
And now every time I see one of those husky tumbleweeds I can’t help but see little money signs — money signs drifting off her body with every step, money signs bursting off her body with every sneeze, money signs littered down the hallway with the shredded tissue paper. Every annoyance that is Maya is now decorated with sad little money signs.
Is it too late to make a little girl’s dreams come true?
— Robert Hoffman
Robert Hoffman delights in being a struggling writer and artist. He’s illustrated the children’s book A Different Kind of Day, and worked as staff cartoonist at the Sacramento State Hornet. When he’s not struggling creatively, he works as a code monkey specializing in educational software and working with such fancy clients as Disney and Nickelodeon. Robert lives in Rocklin, Calif., with his fiancé and their Brady-sized family.
Some of them conjure up images of hot women, whereas others something else, or nothing at all.
The letter C is not a chick’s name. But in high school I knew this white-blonde-haired, blue-eyed bombshell named Ci Ci. A friend of mine dated her. I wanted her to date me. Jealousy ripped out my heart and intestines. Ci Ci looked like a classic beach babe from the shores of Los Angeles.
She was the type who made you want to quit high school, buy a convertible Mustang and drive away with her to live at the beach and surf the rest of your life. You would drop out of high school in a minute if Ci Ci would go with you to live on the beach in a shack.
This would go bad, however, as many things do.
A few years into the shacking life some other guy would be so enamored with her gorgeousness, and she so tired of your personality and staring at her too much, that they would drive away into the sunset in his convertible Mustang.
Like C, D is not a hot babe. But I know of a few women named Dee Dee who have been pretty fine. But Dee Dees tend to be too talkative. I get tired of listening to them. Twiddle Dee Dee, Twiddle Dee Dum.
I is not a woman’s name either. But any babe who uses the word “I” too much is narcissistic and too self-involved. She’s probably an actress or supermodel because they talk about themselves a lot. They say stuff like “I am beautiful,” “I need to lose weight,” “I am so nervous about my movie audition.” I, I, I, and then we all die.
Jay is a guy’s name so he’s out.
Kay may be the most smoking hot babe’s name in the alphabet. Every Kay I’ve known is sweet and desirable. This is also true of Kates and Karens. I have never met an unattractive Kay. Every Kiss Begins with Kay (Jewelers) is the best corporate advertising slogan since “Where’s the Beef?” by Wendy’s circa 1978. Every kiss does begin with Kay because she’s a looker.
P? No. Not on me, please.
U, like I, is a selfish woman. She is also accusatory. She says stuff to men like, “You never take the trash out and you never buy me anything nice.” You can find a better woman to live the rest of your life with than U.
Y is not a woman. It is, however, a great question. Any woman who asks a lot of why questions is attractive. Asking questions, being curious, wanting to understand why we are here, where we’re going, and why the sun rises in the morning is why I love Y.
Don’t ask Y.
— 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.
The procedure can take as little as 20 minutes and costs $2,500-$3,500. A woman will have 24 hours to live with the breast and come to a decision. It’s like test driving a car with you wearing the airbags.
For some women the Insta Breast can be a confidence boost for attending special occasions like a wedding or high school reunion. Although, at your 50th high school reunion, it can be disconcerting to watch a fellow classmate hunched over, like Quasimodo, because the breasts she’s test driving are so big and heavy they’re weighing her down. Because she’s bent in half all conversation is conducted face to navel. Luckily, she’s pinned her name tag to the back of her sweater for all to read.
You read the name. Willie? No, wait, that can’t be, you read it again. Oh, it’s Millie. It’s hard reading upside down.
For some women Insta Breast can be a confidence boost, but for me it’s a dye job. I have what I call my “dentist dyed hair.” Before a dental appointment I get my hair dyed. Why? The dentist and hygienist always stand over me and have a clear view of my head. I don’t want them to see that my hair is the same color as my teeth. I don’t care if they see plaque buildup, but they should not and will not see my gray hair. My vanity speaks from the dental chair.
Why, if I knew when I was going to kick the bucket, I’d make an appointment with my stylist the day before to get my “death dyed hair.” I don’t want to be viewed and have people whisper, “It’s a shame she let herself go; didn’t even bother to touch up her roots.” The mortification! If I wasn’t already dead, I’d die from the embarrassment. Mourners should not and will not see my gray hair.
My vanity speaks — even from the grave.
— Cindy Argiento
Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in HumorPress.com “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.
In the whole wide world — which, as NASA has proven, is a whole lot wider than Pluto, a Disney character who can’t hold a candle to “Sesame Street” star Elmo — nothing is sweeter than my granddaughter, Chloe.
The only thing that comes close is ice cream. So it was especially sweet when Chloe, who’s a big Elmo fan, recently met Christos Skartsiaris, our neighborhood ice cream man.
Chris, who has driven his truck on the same route for almost 40 years, pulled up in front of my house on a warm weekend afternoon, the annoyingly repetitive strains of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” mercifully silenced when he turned off the ignition.
“Doesn’t listening to that song over and over drive you crazy?” I asked. To which Chris responded, “What song?”
As I peered into the open side window of the truck, I saw not only the extensive selection of frozen treats but a small gallery of photos.
“My grandchildren,” said Chris, who has four, with one on the way.
“They’re beautiful,” I said. “I’m a grandfather, too. My granddaughter should be here any minute. She’s not driving yet because she’s only 2.”
“That will happen soon enough,” said Chris.
“As I have told people who aren’t grandparents: If you think your kids grow up fast, wait until you have grandchildren,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” replied Chris, whose grandchildren — Nico, 8; Logan, 8; Sophia, 5; and Dylan, 4 — are growing up fast because, in part, they are nourished with ice cream.
“They’ll ask me, ‘Papou, can I get something from your truck?’ Of course, I always say yes,” said Chris, whose wife, Joan, is called Yaya.
“Chloe calls me Poppie,” I said, adding that my wife, Sue, is Nini.
“Kids these days are really smart,” Chris said. “I had a hundred-dollar bill recently and Nico said, ‘Papou, can I have this dollar?’ I said, ‘Sure, if you give me $99 in change.’ He smiled because he knew it wasn’t a dollar.”
“Nico could be my accountant,” I declared.
“I wasn’t that smart when I was 8,” said Chris.
“I’m not that smart now,” I conceded.
Just then, Chloe pulled up with my younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy); my son-in-law Guillaume (Daddy); and Maggie the dog (Maggie).
“Poppie!” Chloe squealed when she saw me.
Lauren brought her over to the truck and introduced her to Chris.
“Hello, beautiful girl,” Chris said as he scooped (he is, after all, an ice cream man) Chloe into his arms.
“Say hi,” Lauren urged Chloe.
“Hi,” Chloe said tentatively.
Chris put her down and showed her his rolling office. Chloe was fascinated.
“She’s like a kid in an ice cream truck,” I said.
Chris asked what she wanted.
“I-keem!” Chloe exclaimed.
Lauren suggested a Jolly Rancher push-up pop, a rainbow-colored treat with cherry, watermelon and green apple flavors.
“What do you say?” Lauren asked Chloe when Chris handed her the pop.
“Thank you,” Chloe said.
“You’re welcome, sweetheart,” said Chris, who propped her on the window ledge.
Chloe sat there and ate her ice cream, smearing it on her mouth like lipstick and licking it off.
“Here’s another one,” Chris said, handing it to Lauren. “For later.”
He also gave ice cream to the rest of us.
“It’s on me,” Chris said.
At that point, it also was on Chloe, who couldn’t quite keep up with the melting treat.
“Looks like Mommy has to do laundry,” Chris observed.
Then he started up his truck, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” ringing once more through the neighborhood.
“Say bye,” Lauren said to Chloe.
“Bye,” Chloe said.
“And thank you.”
After dinner, Chloe went to the front door, looking for the truck.
“I-keem,” she said.
Chloe had made a friend. And he’s sweet, too.
— 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.
Since I survived many emotional breakdowns, physical crash-downs, natural disasters as well as personal (and family-related) major health problems, I consider myself a lucky person (I thought of another word in this place, but changed my mind due to the fact that coarse language might not be the best choice for a G-rated article).
What prompted me to write the following story has its origins in my recent re-evaluation process that started on the day I turned 40. That number didn’t seem frightening a few digits before, yet, in reality, it turned out to be the scariest thing since Scary movie No 5. It literally terrified the socks off me when I discovered that life could be an ultra tricky thing, putting you through tests that you never even thought possible (and surely didn’t think yourself capable of surviving, at least in your mind).
There was the Berlin Wall falling when I was residing as a foreign student in former West Germany (well, it didn’t fall on my head, so that’s alright). There was the flooding when I was studying for my master’s degree. I helped after hours by putting sand bags around the endangered areas to prevent gushing (as a result we started to drink bottled water instead of tap, so that’s not all too bad). There was certainly the hailstorm in Sydney, Australia, with droplets the size of golf balls while I was writing my Ph.D. thesis as the roof crashed down (ok, I admit it, that’s quite major, but I managed to escape the storm with only minor injuries, so I guess that’s ok).
Yet, none of those fateful incidences came close to the ultimate test I was to face. The most challenging life lesson came rather unexpectedly in the form of my not-as-fresh-as-a-daisy health issues and my mom’s brain tumor.
I don’t think that anybody is prepared to experience the most challenging time of their lives by watching their loved ones brush with never-ever land. Witnessing the people you love with one foot on the other side (I’ve already lost my father at a very young age, which was quite an unsettling experience) can make the strongest person weep and freak out. While I don’t want to go into details of how I almost lost my mom, I’d like to indicate at this point that it traumatized me for life. Plus, it’s doubly tough when you’re in the middle of menopause at the age of 38, while taking care of young children at the same time.
Funny enough, what I thought would have made me a bitter, disheartened and downright hostile person (again, I will refrain from using a bad word here although I’m quite tempted to do so) made me rediscover laughter. I have to confess it’s a rather curious thing that a dramatic situation can make us catch up on lost-along-the-way humor and make us roll in the aisles again in an unexpected manner.
As Erma Bombeck once said, “Laughter arises from tragedy when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.”
There is no better quote that would sum up my life’s journey at this point.
Owing to tragedy, I began to laugh at myself, the way I view the world and the whole emotional misery thing. And while it didn’t help me fix my heartbreak, it surely helped me see the world differently and make fun of it. It even let me add another language to my resume: I’m fluent in sarcasm now, so that makes it the sixth language I can speak.
And while I can’t say I’m grateful to life for putting me through all of this, I’m definitely thankful for one thing: It made me funny as hell, and it didn’t kill me!
— Abby L.
Abby L. is a former Ph.D. student and lecturer of European studies at the University of McGill, globetrotter and mom of 7, who is blogging at www.midlifecrisisnut.com about (you’ve guessed it) midlife crisis, turning 40 and living as an expat in France. She’s contributed to Midlife Boulvard.com, shewrites.com, blogher.com and bloggymoms.com.
I hope she’d moved them or seen them as I blindly search in vain.
“Use mine. They’re on the kitchen counter!” she answered.
I hate using other people’s glasses. It’s that whole washing behind your ears and eyebrows and hair and stuff. Or perhaps they chewed on the ends of them like some slobbery sexy librarian. Other people have no problem borrowing your glasses, talking on your cell phone that you’ve spit all over, and writing with your pencil that you’ve hungrily eaten the eraser and the top two inches off. Not me! No thank you!
“Oh, here they are,” I lie, covering my phobia because it draws her kisses into question.
I now hunt for my glasses covertly and in silence. I start down the stairs and forget what I’m doing or looking for until my phone buzzes to let me know I have a text. I reach for the phone and then remember what I was doing as I look at the screen. “I need my glasses!”
“You said you found them,” she shouts from somewhere in the house.
Dang, too loud. Gotta remember she can still hear.
Never in the course of history has humankind been so needy of quality visual aids. Because everything you do now has some sort of screen that requires you to have vision equal to that of a young eagle. And my vision started to fail just as everything started requiring video screens.
I only need glasses to read, or if I’m curious about something. I drive the car without glasses! And, as they say, if you don’t like the way I drive, stay out of the kitchen.
I have an HD TV and without my glasses on it’s just like the TV I had as a kid with rabbit ears. My dad had heard that rabbit ears improved TV reception. But no matter how many rabbits he killed, the TV still had a fuzzy screen. And top!
I don’t need my glasses to watch Walter Cronkite (I think it’s Walter) every night on the news to keep up with current events. I watch a retro channel for entertainment, as I remember what all the stars looked like in the ’60s and ’70s. And now with my memory, as good as it is, they’ve started writing new shows again.
It’s just the new things in my life that trouble me. Everything digital! And everything’s digital! I can’t make popcorn in the microwave or coffee in the 12-cup drip without hunting the house first. It’s hunting, then stopping and trying to remember what I’m doing. Remember, then hunt some more for the glasses before I forget again. And it’s not just at home that you need your glasses. The whole world has replaced humans with touch screens.
This morning I went to the bank to withdraw $100. Because the line was so long, I used the cash machine. Forgot my glasses, so I had to ask the nice skinhead (or he was wearing a nylon stocking?) man to punch in my password and withdraw $100 for me. But he only gave me $60, saying the machine said that’s all I could get before lunch.
After that I went to buy a bag of groceries. It came to $78.54, and now have to use my bank card as my $60 won’t cover it. I then realize the nice man back at the bank forgot to give me back my debit card so I have to use my Visa card. I hand a girl (I think, can’t read her name tag) my card, and she points at a box with a keypad. I have no idea what the little gray box that I’m supposed to put my card in wants of me. Why can’t I just sign a big blank line like I use to!? (I do a lot of !? !? !? as I get older). Thank goodness the check-out girl remembered my number from last time I was there.
On the way home I stop for gas, but my card won’t work at the pump, and I don’t know why, but the machine knows why. It’s printed a lot of information on its video screen, but I have no glasses.
I try blocking the sun from the video screen as I try to ascertain why I can’t get gas. I’m moving from side to side, up and down, saluting the gas pump as I verbally abuse it.
“Here, borrow mine,” says the guy on the pump beside me as he hands me his glasses.
Awkward. Are people this quick lending their toothbrushes?
“Oh, silly me! These special sunglasses I have on have a button I just need to push,” I lie as I remove my James Bond glasses and pretend to push some magical button.
“Ah, there we go. Oops, says its rejected. Guess I’m poor. Well gotta go!” So off I drive on gas fumes wearing my James Bond shades with no idea why my card was rejected.
Hey, isn’t that the nice skinhead from the bank coming out of the liquor store? Can’t be. He couldn’t afford a whole shopping cart full of booze.
I drive to the next corner, thinking I should have asked him about my debit card. I cross four lanes of traffic and hit a big bump, which I guess was the median, to another gas station. I forgot I had 60 bucks!
“Home, honey, I’m high!” I joke as I close the back door. I place the car keys and my hat on hooks, which through experience have been real timesavers.
“I’m not sure if he purchased a trip for two to Bora Bora. Let me ask him, he just came through the door,” my wife says, then places her right hand over the receiver.
I mouth the word “NO,” shaking my head as my glasses fall from atop my noggin.
“Yes, go ahead and cancel the card. Blah blah blah blah. No, I’m sure it wasn’t stolen. He’s not beat up. But he soon will be!” she assures the phone as she makes a slashing motion across her throat and then points at me.
Well, found my glasses. They were under my hat the whole time. Yet another story about getting old you plan to keep to yourself. More and more these crazy stories fill my life.
“Let me get my glasses and a pen to write that down,” she says into the phone as she reaches in the mug with the broken handle for a pen, giving me the universal sign to hand over my glasses. Then again and again. Fingers opening and closing.
I hand her my glasses as a child would hand over candy he was caught with. Hesitant and crying.
“What’s your problem? They’re mine anyway! Yours are in the bathroom,” she’s says. “You took mine off the kitchen counter by mistake trying to read a text on your phone! And I had to use yours to… .Just you never mind what I had to use yours for.”
My mind runs wild with the things my glasses might have been used for or had seen in the bathroom. Now I’ve got to boil them without her seeing! She thinks I don’t love her when I boil my things after she uses them.
Interrupted, my pants vibrate as I search for which pocket the phone is in. Dang, it’s a text! Where did she say she put my glasses?
Here we go again! I hate glasses!
— Bob Niles
Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names), honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs here.
Allison and Margaret Engel fondly remember their mother sitting at the breakfast table with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in hand, shaking with laughter.
“She could only manage to get out two words — Erma Bombeck,” recalled Allison, who has collaborated with her twin sister on a one-woman play, “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End.”
Starring stage and screen actress Barbara Chisholm, the world premiere is slated for Oct. 9-Nov. 8 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. Chisholm most recently appeared in the Oscar-winning 2014 film, “Boyhood.”
Broadway director David Esbjornson directs the humorous production, described as “a look at one of our country’s most beloved voices, who captured the frustrations of her generation by asking, ‘If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?’”
This is the duo’s second one-act play that celebrates women humorists. In 2010, the two journalists and authors brought the feistiness of syndicated Texas political columnist Molly Ivins to life in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.” Kathleen Turner starred in the critically acclaimed production on stages in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Calif., and Washington, D.C.
After the premiere of “Red Hot Patriot,” Aaron Priest, Bombeck’s agent and longtime friend, contacted the playwrights about their interest in bringing Erma to life on stage.
At the peak of her career, Bombeck’s “At Wit’s End” column appeared in more than 900 newspapers, reaching 30 million readers. Her entertaining essays hung on refrigerator doors around the country because they captured so perfectly the foibles of family life. She’s arguably the most famous graduate of the University of Dayton, which honors her legacy through the popular biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. In 1996, she died of complications from a kidney transplant.
“It was such a delight to remember and read all of Erma’s books and columns,” Margaret said. “She is so witty and gets at the secret life of a family that makes us laugh in recognition.”
To research “At Wit’s End,” the sisters read her immense body of work — thousands of columns and a dozen books — and viewed “Good Morning America” clips from her 11 years on the show. They perused the University of Dayton’s online Erma museum for photographs, speeches and other material and interviewed Erma’s husband Bill, secretary Norma Born and the three children, Matt, Betsy and Andy.
“We had an avalanche of material to work with,” Allison said. “The family has been so wonderful as far as being generous with their time and remembrances.”
Matt Bombeck, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, said the family is looking forward to hearing Erma’s words performed. “The Engel sisters were absolutely the right playwrights to bring our mom’s humor to the stage,” he said. “We hope the play not only makes audiences laugh, but gives people a deeper insight into her life.”
The Engels’ appreciation for Bombeck grew enormously as they worked to translate her life for the stage. “We found her remarkable,” Allison said. “She was so well known that magazine polls showed her right up there with the pope among admired people, yet she didn’t go Hollywood. When the kids came home from school, she was just mom. We tried to portray that in the play. To be ordinary and have such remarkable fame, it’s almost impossible to pull that off.”
Bombeck poked fun at motherhood and housekeeping during a time of social change for women, drawing a legion of like-minded women as fans. “Many people probably don’t realize that she spent almost two years of her own time on her own dime stumping for the Equal Rights Amendment,” Margaret said. “She lived through the Depression and that experience of seeing what her (widowed) mother went through also informed her activism.”
As a champion for women’s lives, Bombeck would appreciate that 50 theatres in Washington, D.C. have agreed to premiere new work by women playwrights this fall as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
Early ticket sales for “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” are strong, which doesn’t surprise the playwrights. “There’s pent-up demand for Erma,” Allison said.
For tickets, click here.
— Teri Rizvi
Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she also serves as executive director of strategic communications. (Illustration by Ed Fotheringham, courtesy of Arena Stage. Photo credit: Mark Berndt)