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Grandfather Playground Society

Jerry ZezimaTo steal a line from Groucho Marx, who is dead and can’t sue me, I would never belong to any club that would have me as a member.

But I made an exception on a recent weekday afternoon when I was indicted (sorry, I mean inducted) into a prestigious, exclusive and, I can proudly say, entirely dubious organization called the Grandfather Playground Society.

The founding members were yours truly and two guys named Jeff and Steve. I was there with Chloe, who is 3; Jeff had Madison, 2; and Steve had Aliya, also 2.

The first thing Jeff said to me was: “I am going to have a heart attack.”

That’s because he had already been chasing Madison around for an hour.

“I think I’ll join you,” I responded, because I had just raced with Chloe from slides to swings and back again and was feeling a bit short of breath.

Unfortunately, Chloe doesn’t yet know CPR, which stands for Collapsed Poppie Resuscitation.

Steve, meanwhile, was following Aliya on a tricycle (she was riding it and he was walking in circles behind her because there wasn’t enough room on the seat for both of them) and was grateful he was getting a breather.

“This beats running,” he noted.

“When you have grandchildren,” I said, “you don’t have to join a health club.”

“It saves a lot of money,” Jeff said.

“And you can use the savings to buy beer,” I pointed out.

“I could go for one right now,” Steve chimed in.

Then all three of us went back to the slides with our granddaughters, who wanted us to accompany them. This required us to put the kids on our laps and swoosh down at breakneck speed, absorbing jolts to our tailbones before coming to a screeching halt on the hard plastic surface about two feet from the end, the result being that we were almost catapulted skyward with toddlers who thought it was fun but didn’t realize that their grandfathers nearly suffered grievous injuries that could have transformed us into falsettos.

“Let’s go again, Poppie!” Chloe exclaimed. Her new friends agreed.

“What do you do for joint trouble?” Jeff asked after the third trip.

“Move to a new joint,” I answered.

Instead, we moved back to the swings, where Madison, Aliya and Chloe were secured in their seats while Jeff, Steve and I pushed them and officially convened the meeting.

“Being a grandfather is the best thing in the world,” I said.

“Yes,” agreed Steve. “And after you’re done playing with your grandkids, you can give them back.”

“Speaking of backs,” Jeff said with a wince, “mine is sore as hell.”

“But it’s worth all the aches and pains,” I said. “In fact, it makes you young again.”

And I proved it, after the girls were done on the swings, by chasing Chloe up and down a nearby hill, then going to another set of slides, where I didn’t have to accompany her but did have to catch her at the bottom and run back around to watch her as she climbed the steps.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Steve were running after their granddaughters, who don’t move as fast as Chloe because they are a year younger but who nonetheless can take the wind out of any geezers who happen to be their grandfathers.

A little later, we met up again at the park entrance.

“It’s time for a nap,” Steve said as he looked down at his tired granddaughter.

“You look like you could use one, too,” Jeff said.

“We all could,” I added with a yawn.

On that note, the first meeting of the Grandfather Playground Society ended. The three of us, granddaughters in tow, limped back to our cars and wished each other happy healing.

“The next time we get together,” I suggested, “let’s go to a spa. If it’s good enough for their grandmothers, it’s good enough for us.”

— 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.

Karma is a you know what

Laura FahrentholdEveryone already knows the answer when asking the question, “Do I reeaaally have to?” Otherwise, no one would ask. Everyone would just do whatever it is and be done with it. The question is really just a delay tactic.

My teenage daughters do it all the time when it comes to housework.

“But Mooooom. Do I reeaaally have to (insert chore: clean the bathroom, bathe the dog, do the dishes)?”

I want every parent out there join hands and chant after me: “YES, YOU REALLY HAVE TO CLEAN THE BATHROOM, BATHE THE DOG and/or DO THE DISHES.”

“But I hate scrubbing the toilet!” they will inevitably cry. “It’s gross! People pee in there!”

Here’s what you do. Don’t engage. Just say, “OK. That’s fine. You’ll just have to find your own bathroom.”

When I said this to my daughter, she looked overjoyed as if a fairy contractor came in, waved his magic plunger and built her a private on-suite room de toilet over the weekend.

A nanosecond later, it registered.

“You mean I would have to go outside?” she asked weakly, eyes darting between the white scrub brush and the sliding glass back door that leads to the grassy paradise.

“Yup. If you don’t want to clean the bathroom, you don’t have to, but you can’t use it anymore. You can pee in the yard. How high can you lift your leg anyway?”

I then called the dog over to lead us on a tour of his favorite spots.

“Oh and see that hose over there?” I said pointing to that hose in our yard. “Just Google how to turn it into a outdoor shower. It’s called DIY or do it yourself. I’m not sure what you’ll do in the wintertime but for now, it’s a perfect solution to your problem.”

Surprise! Surprise! That night after work, I was greeted with something better than a bouquet of flowers: the smell of Windex, Comet and Clorox bleach permeating the air.


unnamedI quickly made the lovely girl a flower out of a Kleenex tissue, thanked her for her service and began to slowly engage in neutral conversation… That’s when we heard a bloody scream coming from the backyard. It sounded like two wild animals fighting.

Turns out, I was unfortunately right. And there on the back deck was an opossum’s almost dead, screaming body in a flowerpot to prove it.

Neither my sister, Wendy, nor my friend visiting from England were of any help, beyond shining a flashlight from inside the cover of the house. Oh, and they handed me a makeshift undertaker’s tool kit: barbecue tongsand a plastic bag.

“Do I reeaaally have to?” I begged.

That’s when my daughter’s head popped out of the bedroom window in a moment of sheer glee.

“Yes, Mooooom. You reeaaally have to.”

Karma is a you know what.

—Laura Fahrenthold

Laura Fahrenthold is a former New York Daily News crime reporter about to publish her first book about spreading her husband’s ashes on cross-country RV trips with her eyeball-rolling teenage daughters and the pink steering wheel acting as her spiritual guide. Visit for more of her work!

Dogs just wanna have fun – at the beach

Jass RichardsOur next trip was to the beach. It was a longer drive, so it would be a whole day thing. No problem, said Hunk’s guy. Okay, said Big Miss, a little cautiously. Sure, said Spunky Doo’s people—please. And Chum? He had gone home on his own after the field trip, but I’d remembered his number.

“Oh, he’d love to go to the beach with you! I’ll get his beach ball out.” His beach ball? Turns out it was a severely waterlogged rubber ball, essentially a sponge ball. Chum was waiting at the door, his beach ball in his mouth, clearly understanding he was GOING TO THE WATER!! Of course. He was part lab.

Little Miss was also waiting at the door, in a bikini. Oh my god. It was an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny bikini. A yellow, polka dot bikini.

Hunk pretended not to notice. As did Chum. Spunky Doo wouldn’t have noticed in any case. And Kessie didn’t really care what other people wore. She had a bright green tennis ball in her mouth. And Snookums—Snookums was having her second car ride, so she threw up. I pulled over and with Little Miss’ permission, and I suspect, her approval, took off her bikini and used it to clean up Snookum’s throw-up.

Half an hour later, we arrived. I parked the car and let the dogs out. Yippee!! Woohoo! Kessie knew what she wanted. She’d been here before. She put her ball in my hand, got ready, and then tore off down the runway of hard packed sand by the water’s edge, racing after her ball. Sheer bliss.

Chum put his beach ball down at my feet, then looked expectantly out to the water. Of course! I threw it out as far as I could. He heard the plop, noted its position, and then threw himself into the waves after it.

This was Snookums’ first time at the beach. What would she do? Turned out she was fascinated by the water’s edge. She toddled along the edge, beside me, as I walked along on the firm part. Splish, splash, plunk, plunk. She was very focused. On what, I wasn’t sure. Shiny grains of sand? Rotten bits of fish?

Spunky Doo was running ahead and back, barking at the waves. Little Miss was walking on the other side of me, careful not to get her tootsies wet, lifting them higher than was really necessary. And Hunk. Hunk was a surprise. I don’t think Dobermans are known for their swimming abilities. And suddenly he was out there, howling, and yipping, and squealing, and splashing at the surface with his huge paws, having the time of his life, and gulping water, and—oh my god, was he drowning? I looked at Chum, who, as part lab, was our designated Lifeguard. Until this moment, he had been repeatedly plowing through the waves with masterful and determined strokes after his soggy and increasingly forlorn beach ball. But upon hearing Hunk, he stopped, looked, and listened. And then resumed plowing through the waves with masterful and determined strokes. After his soggy and increasingly forlorn beach ball. Okay then. Little Miss had also looked to Chum. She understood he was not concerned, but she wasn’t entirely convinced. She kept her eye on Hunk as she walked beside me.

Apparently Spunky Doo didn’t get the memo. He dove into the water after Hunk. Whether he intended to rescue him or just join in on the goofiness, we’ll never know. We do know that once Spunky Doo reached Hunk, the rescue situation had to be reassessed. Again Chum stopped, looked, and listened. I looked attentively at Chum. As did Little Miss. Even Snookums paused. (Kessie used the moment to put her ball securely into my hand.) But by then Hunk had extricated himself from Spunky Doo and had struggled ashore, muttering. (‘Dumb a** dog…’, no doubt.)

—Jass Richards

Jass Richards has a master’s degree in philosophy and for a (very) brief time was a stand-up comic (now she’s more of a sprawled-on-the-couch comic). Despite these attributes, she has received four Ontario Arts Council grants. In addition to her Rev and Dylan series (The Road Trip Dialogues, The Blasphemy Tour and License to Do That), which has reportedly made people snort root beer out their noses, she has written This Will Not Look Good on My Resume, a collection of short stories described as “a bit of quirky fun that slaps you upside the head.” “At the Beach” is excerpted from its sequel Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun.   All of her books, including her most recent, TurboJetslams: Proof #29 of the Non-Existence of Godcan be purchased (in print and various e-formats) at all the usual online places.


Give the gift of laughter and inspiration

2016-gt-logo-wdate1Everyone has heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. How about Giving Tuesday?

The University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is kicking off the season of giving by participating in #GivingTuesday on Nov. 29, asking those who support the workshop to make a gift and urging supporters to post an “unselfie” on social media to encourage others to give.

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to make a difference in the lives of others and the causes they support.

The workshop has set an ambitious goal of raising $20,000 in contributions by the end of the year to take full advantage of a generous $20,000 matching gift from an anonymous donor. The #GivingTuesday social media campaign is part of that push. Between now and Dec. 31, all donations to the workshop will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $20,000.bombeck-writers-workshop

To make an online gift, click here. Checks can be mailed to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, University of Dayton, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469-7054. If you or your spouse works for a matching gift company, the impact of your gift may be doubled or tripled. Please check here or your human resources office for details.

Why give?

“For many, it’s a way of giving back to a workshop that helped launch their writing lives. We’re trying to keep the workshop affordable for writers and continue Erma’s legacy,” said Teri Rizvi, who founded the biennial workshop in 2000. “We are asking writers and supporters to help us honor Erma in a way that will allow us to reach as widely and as powerfully as her writing and humor have.”

When Rizvi recently asked for personal stories, writers from around the country said they gained the confidence, writing know-how and connections to publish books, write essays for The New York Times and other national outlets, perform stand-up comedy, secure speaking engagements and submit work for anthologies. Read their stories here. Writers described the popular, nationally renowned workshop as “life changing,” “empowering,” even “magical.”

heartEntering its fifth year, #GivingTuesday is powered by social media and collaboration. Last year, more than 700,000 online donors in 71 countries gave nearly $117 million to nonprofit organizations.

In 2004, University of Dayton alumnus Ralph Hamberg and his wife Cindy gave a $100,000 gift to start a workshop endowment fund in memory of her cousin, Brother Tom Price, S.M., the English professor who launched Erma’s career with three simple words of encouragement: “You can write!” The Hamberg family, the Bombeck family, workshop faculty members, volunteers, writers and other supporters continue to contribute to the endowment fund. In 2015, actress and playwright Mary Lou Quinlan brought her one-woman show, “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story,” to campus for two benefit performances for the endowment.

The University of Dayton’s Alumni Association underwrites the cost of scholarships that allow between 25 and 30 University of Dayton students to attend the workshop for free. The University of Dayton’s Human Resources Office provides 10 scholarships for faculty and staff.

For more ways to support the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, click here.

Inspired to write

Erma typewriter

As a University of Dayton student, humorist Erma Bombeck heard “three magic words” from an English professor: “You can write!”

In preparation and celebration of the 10th anniversary workshop in 2018, a generous donor has stepped forward with a $20,000 challenge gift to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop to make sure other aspiring writers receive the same encouragement. Between now and Dec. 31, all donations to the workshop will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $20,000.

The funds will be used to help keep the nationally renowned workshop affordable for writers.

“We are so grateful for this generous support. If we had to charge all our expenses to workshop attendees, our registration fee would more than double,” said Teri Rizvi, who founded the workshop in 2000 as a way to honor Bombeck’s legacy and inspire writers. “The workshop gives writers — both aspiring and seasoned — the courage to pursue their dreams.”

Online donations can be made here. Checks can be mailed to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, University of Dayton, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469-7054. If you or your spouse works for a matching gift company, the impact of your gift may be doubled or tripled. Please check here or your human resources office for details.

The workshop also will be part of #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to philanthropy on Nov. 29. Following “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” “Giving Tuesday” kicks off the traditional season of giving. Read about our social media campaign here.

Joe Valenzano, chair of the University of Dayton’s communication department, said the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is worthy of support for the way it provides valuable hands-on learning for students and writers from all parts of the country.Pitchapalooza

“The workshop has demonstrated its value time and again, helping inspire and educate aspiring and professional writers. In my mind, and for those who attend, it is the ‘Hope Diamond’ of writing workshops and a University of Dayton treasure.  As such, we need to nurture it to ensure that students and writers across the country continue to benefit from it,” said Valenzano, who serves on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop campaign committee.

Since the inaugural workshop in 2000, literally thousands of writers, inspired by Bombeck’s humor and humanity, have gathered at her alma mater to laugh and learn from an impressive lineup of keynote speakers and presenters, including Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor, Phil Donahue, Nancy Cartwright, Roy Blount Jr., Don Novello, Gail Collins, Lisa Scottoline, Alan Zweibel and Leonard Pitts. The wildly popular workshop always sells out.

Approximately 400 writers from 35 states and two countries participated in the 2016 workshop, which sold out in record time — less than six hours.

“It’s fitting that we honor and nurture Erma’s legacy at the University of Dayton, where she found support and inspiration for her life’s work,” said Vicki Giambrone ’81, trustee emeritus and former president of the Alumni Association who helped launch the workshop.

“The University of Dayton has always provided a safe place to explore for all who want to learn and grow. The workshop’s educational mission showcases how the University of Dayton nurtures talent and aspirations. When those talents blossom, writers have the power to change the world,” said Giambrone, who serves on the campaign committee.

The University of Dayton’s Alumni Association underwrites the cost of scholarships that allow between 25 and 30 University of Dayton students to attend the workshop for free. The University of Dayton’s Human Resources Office provides 10 scholarships for faculty and staff.

In 2004, University of Dayton alumnus Ralph Hamberg and his wife Cindy gave a $100,000 gift to start a workshop endowment fund in memory of her cousin, Brother Tom Price, S.M., the English professor who launched Erma’s career with three simple words of encouragement. The Hamberg family, the Bombeck family, workshop faculty members, volunteers, writers and other supporters continue to contribute to the endowment fund. In 2015, actress and playwright Mary Lou Quinlan brought her one-woman show, “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story,” to campus for two benefit performances for the endowment.

For more ways to support the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, click here.

New face behind the workshop

img_1413Madeleine Eiting, a senior University of Dayton marketing major from Minster, Ohio, has joined the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop as an intern.

“Given my love for both comedy and writing, I knew this position would be a perfect fit,” said Eiting, who will edit and post essays on the workshop’s blog, explore ways to improve the workshop’s social media presence and help implement a matching gift campaign.

“Two summers ago, while backpacking through the Philippines, I was fortunate enough to share my travel experiences on my personal travel blog. Writing about my adventures not only encouraged me to develop my own comedic voice, but also allowed me to find humor in the smallest of events,” she said. “As I have continued to study comedy and comedic writing, I’ve learned that the greatest comedians are so popular because they are able to transform the smallest, most insignificant events into hilarious and relatable stories.

“As an intern for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop I will capitalize on this understanding to connect with both the newsletter subscribers and website visitors,” said Eiting, who is minoring in English.

At the University of Dayton, she serves as president of Big Brothers Big Sisters. In 2015, she won $2,500 for “Best Social Enterprise” in the University’s Business Plan competition. She designed a company that helps meet the needs of American youth while providing educational funding for children in developing countries.

This is her fourth internship. Last summer, she worked as a market research analyst for C+R Research in Chicago. In 2015, she served as a social media marketing intern for Bleu Market Group in Mason, Ohio. In 2014, she interned for Martha’s Table in Washington, D.C., where she distributed fresh produce and non-perishables to underprivileged children and families.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she serves as executive director of strategic communication.

Ode to my father and the NY Mets

Tracy BucknerThe only time in my life that I ever saw my father seriously worried for my future was when I threw a baseball with the wrong foot forward. Horrified, he made a quick adjustment and all was well in the Roberts household.

Whether they were winning or losing, my Dad and I have been lifelong Mets fans. Being an awesome father with high priorities, he suggested I skip school to watch them clinch the 1969 World Series. While I was living in Boston, a highlight of my life was getting us tickets to every game of the 1986 Mets-Red Sox World Series at Fenway Park. Surrounded by grieving and oh so silent Red Sox fans, we celebrated the Mets win being neither silent nor grieving. When Bill Buckner (no relation), first baseman for the Red Sox, watched that ball go through his legs he became, and will remain, my favorite baseball player of all time.

It has become our tradition that every year I take my father to a home game. Sitting with my Dad, a starting pitcher for Rutgers Newark ‘53-‘56, I learned there is more to the game than meets the eye and the past 2 years were particularly fun because the Mets were a winning team.

This year, for the first time in a long time, sadly, there was no plan to get to a game. My 85-year old father was very unsteady due to a bad fall and needed a cane. So instead, we watched the games on his big-screen TV.

I’m not sure if it was because the Mets were killing it this year with a rag-tag team of triple A players to make up for a bruised and battered starting line-up, or the fact that there were no kosher hotdogs, but he turned to me and said, “You only live once. Let’s go to a game.” In the words of the great Yogi Berra, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too.”

Off we went to Citi Field.

Arriving at the stadium, I opened the door to where my Dad sat and tried to calm my nerves. The long walk to the stadium mixed with the impatient, rowdy, and jostling NY crowd unnerved me. Ok, I thought, Ya Gotta Believe!

Into the crowd we went and almost immediately, we were met by a Citi Field representative who said, “Sir, what can I help you with?” I looked behind us. Was he speaking to my Dad? He was, and I almost hugged him out of gratitude. Showing him our tickets he escorted us to a private elevator. I felt like Kim Kardashian without the add-ons.

The elevator opened and another Citi Field rep led us to the restaurant where 2 fans offered my father and I their seats. I hadn’t met so many smiling, wonderful people in one place since Kindergarten.

Off to our seats where soon into the game another Citi Field rep asked if we wanted to move to cushioned seats and I started to think having a senior with a cane had its advantages. Perhaps I would start an agency… Rent-a-Senior! Avoid all lines by hiring my Dad to be a stand-in at the DMV or Shop-Rite before a storm. He was a walking goldmine! But I digress, back to the Mets and my Dad.

It was a completely wonderful night capped off with a 10th run homer by Yo Céspedes, which gave our Mets a win. When the game ended it was back to the star treatment and the private elevator. I offered the elevator operator my autograph, as I was now a legend, if only in my own mind.

You need a sense of humor to be a Mets fan.

That night my father set an example for me, (one of many in my lifetime): live and enjoy your life. Persevere, even if it takes time, patience, fear, and some pain to do it. But do it.

“The future ain’t what it used to be.” ~ Yogi Berra


A special shout out to Mike G. and Elise P. who were sitting next to me during every game, even when they weren’t. Wait till next year!

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner writes for The Observer Tribune of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills Newspaper, serving Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can read more from Tracy on her blog: Aging, kids, and why we self-medicate. http://tracy

Heel thyself

Laura BeckerIt is a constant crust that cannot be cut away. The loser piece of the loaf. The beginning that must be gotten through and the end that must be endured. The heel. And I will not have it!

As the oldest of five, I was guaranteed to get it. There was always someone younger who wasn’t up to crust, and it was just easier to serve the last slice to the oldest sibling. And it had to be eaten because otherwise there wouldn’t be enough to go around. On top of that, if we had company or cousins…I would wind up with both toasted tips!

And though I was grateful for my daily bread, because I was regularly reminded when I complained that there are people with no bread at all, my elementary-aged incisors would struggle through its extra dryness from its position of outer exposure as I squeezed my bologna and Velveeta between these counterfeit crusts and imagined I was eating the inner-most slice. The prized position in the pan.

Sometimes I would flip my food upside down, good side up so I couldn’t see it. If the mayonnaise had been smeared on the standard slice, I would restructure my sandwich, tucking the obscene brown bit within, so only soft surface was showing, but I knew. And with every bite, I was less chewing and more gnashing my teeth against a texture I just couldn’t tolerate.

In adulthood I avoided sandwiches and toast, thoroughly convinced that I did not like bread. But once I was married, the loaves were suddenly back on the grocery list and I soon discovered that it was not bread itself that I despised but the heel!

So I would use the bread, reaching around the heel to the rest. But eventually, I wound up with a bunch of moldy heels. So, I started tucking them away in the freezer. Until one day my husband confronted me about my heel hording.

He had opened the freezer to get some ice but had been blindsided by bread. A glut of gluten, all frozen solid and falling on his face. There were at least 40 little plastic twist-tied leftover loaf bits all stored up and saved for someday.

“Why is our freezer full of frozen bread heels?”

“I thought I would use them for stuffing.”

“You know there are only two of us, right?”

“But I hate the heel!”

“Then throw it away.”

Throw it away? Just throw it away?!? This bit of daily bread I had so generously been given when there were people out there who didn’t have any bread at all…as I had so often been reminded. But what was I going to do? Send them all of my heels? That’s not really giving, that’s garbage. And saving it up for someday wasn’t gratitude, it was guilt.

Guilt over having enough to go around, even without the heel. Guilt over no longer struggling to get by. Guilt over doing better. Guilt over gluten I was no longer going to give in to.

I don’t force myself to eat the heel anymore. I rarely save it either. I don’t have to. And I am grateful.

— Laura Becker

Laura Becker is an essayist who currently resides in Redondo Beach with her screenwriting partner/husband. Born in Missouri. Raised in Kansas. Adolescence/young adulthood in Iowa, which, according to Walter Neft in Double Indemnity, makes her a native Californian. She writes, quips, muses and laughs about almost anything…almost.

Reflections of Erma