The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Is this seat taken?

Roz WarrenA single woman should regard every train ride as an opportunity, I once read in one of those “How to Find A Boyfriend” books.

“When boarding the train, don’t take the first available seat,“ the author advised. “Walk through all the cars looking for a cute guy sitting alone, then sit next to him.”

This may well help you meet that cute guy, but it’s unlikely to get your relationship off to a good start. After all, nobody really wants to give up that extra seat. Sure, you‘re only entitled to the seat you paid for, not the empty one next to it. But that doesn’t stop most of us from hoping for both seats anyway.

On Amtrak, there are frequent announcements telling you not to hog both seats. “This is a full train!” the conductor intones. “Don’t put your personal belongings on the seat beside you. We need every seat.” I’m listening to this as I watch my fellow passengers busily piling backpacks, briefcases, shopping bags and gigantic suitcases on that extra seat, as well as employing a variety of other strategies to ensure that nobody sits there.

On a recent Amtrak journey, the woman sitting across the aisle from me stretched out across both seats and closed her eyes every time we approached a station. Once the boarding passengers had all found seats and the train was moving again, she‘d “wake up” and go about her business until it was again time to feign sleep. Thanks to this ploy, she was able to hang onto that empty seat for the entire trip.

This little trick doesn‘t always work. The entire train car I was in once watched, riveted, as a middle-aged man searching for a seat on a crowded train paused, then began hollering at a kid who was stretched, eyes closed,  across two seats.

“Sit up this minute!“ he roared. “You’re not fooling me, young man! Did you pay for two seats? You have no right to take up two seats! Shame on you! Sit up now!”

The kid sat up, rubbing his eyes.  “What’s your problem, man?” he protested. “I was only trying to sleep. I would have given up the seat. You just had to ask.”

“Don’t you dare pull that crap on me,” Angry Guy bellowed. “I know exactly where you’re coming from. You have a lot of nerve!”

The kid stood up, shaking his head, grabbed his bag from the overhead rack and moved to another car. Angry Guy got both seats to himself for the rest of the trip. (For some reason, nobody wanted to sit next to him.)

While I understood his frustration with Sleeping Beauty, that level of rage seemed way out of line.  “Looks like somebody brought a little extra EMOTIONAL baggage on board with him today,“ I remarked to my seat mate.

Most people simply put something on the empty seat and hope for the best. Others go a bit further. I have a friend who swears that nobody will sit next to you if you’re eating a stinky sandwich. Another always removes her shoes and socks, which, she says,  guarantees that nobody will want to share her seat. Doing your nails or talking loudly on your cell phone can also do the trick.  One of my co-workers always takes the aisle seat and then puts both tray tables down, creating a little obstacle course for anybody who wants to grab that empty window seat.  Many people plop down in an aisle seat, put their bag on the seat next to them, then plug in their IPOD, lean back and shut their eyes.

Some people, of course, are simply so fat as to require both seats.

I have a friend who doesn’t put anything on the empty seat. Instead, he visualizes a huge, muscular, angry-looking guy sitting there. “You’re saying that you travel with an imaginary friend?” I ask. He nods. “And he’s one scary-looking dude. He does a great job of keeping that seat free.”

Whatever works.

In the most amazing display of seat-hogging chutzpah I’ve ever witnessed, I once saw a man calmly pour a substantial amount of bottled water on the seat beside him as the train approached the station. To each “Is this seat taken?” he responded. “It’s wet, I’m afraid. I spilled my drink on it.“

He failed to mention that he’d done this deliberately. Naturally, he got that seat to himself.

(Later,  on my way back from the club car, I was tempted to “stumble” as I passed his seat and “accidentally” douse him with Pepsi. I didn’t. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And I actually wanted to drink that Pepsi. Plus, I didn’t know what terrible acts of vengeance a man like that was capable of, and I didn’t really want to find out.)

When I board a crowded train, I don’t look for a cute guy to sit next to. Instead, I’ll often amuse myself by finding the passenger who has gone to the most trouble to avoid having a seat mate, and sit next to them. I’ll walk right past the cute guy sitting alone in order to ask the woman who has piled a hundred million suitcases on the seat beside her, “Is this seat taken?“ Then I wait for her to remove all her stuff from the seat so I can claim it. Sitting in a seat like that seems that much sweeter for the trouble I had to go through to get it.

Of course, the delight I take in little exchanges like this might just explain why I’m still single.

— Roz Warren

Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor.  This essay first appeared on www.womensvoicesforchange.org.

Dancing in a ray of light

Carissa KapcarMonday morning welcomed me with defeat.  Actually, it slapped me across the face.

Sunday evening I chose relaxation (and a magazine) over preparation and was punished for it just 12 hours later when a holler roared over the streaming shower water as an alert that we hadn’t completed the school papers that were due that day.

Suddenly everything was abruptly propelled into action as I scrambled out and threw on clothes before offering an apologetic sigh to the tired image in the mirror. There was no time to blow dry or conceal. I didn’t rise early and do the things I aspire to do like jog or stretch. And I didn’t do the things I have to do like pack lunches and complete the papers.

The papers weren’t for anything big, just book orders and field trips. But it’s this little stuff that’s big stuff when you’re a kid and, therefore, becomes part of the very big job of parenthood. And it’s in this role that I was feeling increasingly defeated recently.

I hurried downstairs — to the papers, backpacks and breakfast. With few groceries and no time to preheat the oven, innovation was key.

I chose to broil frozen chicken nuggets for a fast, if not nutritious, meal. When I looked away then back, the nuggets were on fire! Another domestic defeat.  I couldn’t even heat up frozen chicken nuggets…and for breakfast.

Smoke filled the kitchen, and the alarm sounded as nuggets were tossed into the sink. Two of the kids cried, but the oldest was obliviously enthralled with a book. When he finally noticed the emergency, I tried to hide my exasperation that he’s seemingly always lost in his own world.

Hurrying, I nudged him to the door and he made a clumsy move to avoid stepping on a beam of sunlight entering from a window. Through the smoke, the beam made floating dust flakes sparkle before landing on the spot on the floor that he had just stepped over.  “That’s beautiful,” he remarked, as his youngest sister skipped into the sunbeam and twirled with arms in the air.

In that moment, domestic defeat was replaced with parental pride as I was reminded that if this was what being lost in your own world feels like, then perhaps we all need to get lost once in a while.  Because instead of smoke lingering at our ceiling, I focused on the illuminated and smiling faces of my oldest and youngest children.

These radiating bookends of my motherhood were drawn to the light, seeing straight through the everyday little stuff and right into the big beautiful stuff. They knew how to soak up the sunshine and dance in a ray of light!

— Carissa Kapcar

Carissa Kapcar is a writer and happy, grateful, sometimes funny and often times tired mother of four (three living) who shuttles a minivan around the Chicago suburbs and clings to just enough irreverence to stay sane. Once upon a time she graduated from Miami University and worked in advertising on the East coast. These days she can be found in the school car pool line or blogging at Carissak.com or the Huffington Post where she shares “stories that reveal gratitude in the mess of everyday life.” Her work also has been featured on LeanIn.org and is a part of the book Return To Zero.

When to say no to a career in horticulture

Noah Vail and Mary FarrI never felt moved to garden.

A weekly CSA full of carrots makes a delicious gift, but last year when I was craving a fresh rhubarb crisp, our CSA farmer Clyde Gunderson delivered a bushel of kale. Incidentally green kale combined with blueberries and a shot of apple juice, makes another color — brown. Hence, the term Poo Smoothie made its way into our food lexicon. But, more to the point, why squander good money on fertilizer and compost when Andres and I toss it out of my room every day?

Madam, on the other hand, swoons when the spring seed catalogs arrive. Daffodils, mums, heirloom tomatoes — she sticks them in the ground the minute she can chisel a hole in the dirt. A case in point: last spring, she expanded her petite kitchen garden into an enterprise worthy of the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum. Size, by the way, didn’t necessarily spell success. Just about the time she popped a fabulous looking head of cauliflower into boiling water, an entire worm family swam for cover. Thus ended the blanch-and-freeze operation. Yet, Madam is nothing if not persistent.

Armed with this information, I should not have been surprised when she texted me to ask if I would bring big Sven over to her place to help tidy up last year’s botanical behemoth. According to her, it was a job requiring horsepower from manly specimens like the two of us.

“We’ll need to pull your Comfy Sundowner trailer out of the shed for this little undertaking,” she added. “All the garden litter and leftover pumpkins will never fit in the Subaru Outback.”

“Um, how about bagging the stuff and leaving it on the curb for Aspen Waste Management,” I suggested. If memory serves, last year’s clean up produced a number of hidden surprises including slippery night crawlers and a petrified vole.

I tried to explain. “The idea of thawing rabbit poo and rotted hostas joyriding in my Comfy Sundowner just feels wrong,” I offered politely. “And sharing space with rodent carcasses doesn’t appeal to Sven either. He might be a big shire but he happens to be afraid of mice.”

It helped her case that she kept referring to Sven and me as manly specimens. So, with minimal coaxing and the promise of a Dairy Queen Moo Latte, we agreed to help. Sven loaded up our Bobcat Gator and a few pitchforks, and Madam drove us to her home for a morning of garden prep.

Once we filled the Comfy Sundowner, she announced, “Okay boys, jump in. We’re off to the St. Claire Avenue compost site to get rid of this stuff.”

We climbed in. Sven tied a dish towel over his nose cowboy style to protect against the Eau de Squirrel fragrance that wafted from within. Fortunately the ride took just minutes, though lots of other folks had the same idea. Fully loaded cars and trucks wound around the driveway and down the street. So, we caught a quick nap while we waited. Once Madam reached the front of the line, she pulled up to the nearest pile of organic matter and started pitching while Sven and I waited inside the trailer.

Folks must have been feeling jumpy with all that waiting because, soon enough, a fracas broke out somewhere in the next row over.

“What’s all that shouting?” whispered Sven.

I stretched my neck attempting to get a look out my window, just in time for a rotten tomato to smack the glass. I ducked, and Sven gasped. More shouts followed. “It’s coming from that red van,” I whispered back. “Can you see anything from your side?”

“All I can see is Madam pointing at a sign that says No Guns, Fighting, or Foul Language Allowed on these Premises. Violators will be Prosecuted!” Just about then, a muddy cantaloupe ricocheted off the trailer door, as Madam yanked it open and jumped in. Armed with a pitchfork and a plastic bag, she appeared to be ready for a firm discussion.

“Why don’t you just call 911 and let the authorities stop over for a word,” I suggested, to no avail. (No pun intended).

“You boys don’t move a whisker,” she commanded, disregarding my entreaty. “I’m tossing the rest of this stuff right out the back door, and we’ll be out of here in a flash. “

By now, the shouting had escalated to an unruly level, and I could see the site supervisor galloping across the parking area waving his fist. A woman in a pink tube top bellowed at her boyfriend Frank calling him a good for nothing lump. A guy named Billy threw a punch at a fellow driving a Ford Super Duty pickup. Just at that moment, a can of beer made it through the pickup driver’s open window. That was when the foul language struck a high note.

Meanwhile, Madam kept pushing garden remains out the trailer door. She then slammed and bolted the tailgate, jumped in her Dodge Ram, and drove for home like a volunteer firefighter on her way to a four- alarmer.

“What the heck was that about?” Sven squeaked as we bounced over a curb and up the hill. “I thought compost sites were friendly places where folks traded tips on grilling sweet corn.”

“Hmm… I suppose that sign should have been our first clue,” I reasoned out loud. “I’ll have to admit though, that woman in pink had quite an arm to pitch a full can of beer through a truck window.” Sven shuddered at the thought.

Noah“Yes, but do you think this will keep Madam from gardening this year?” he croaked, wincing at the prospect of getting beaned by a can of Summit Pale Ale.

“Not a chance,” I replied. Once she gets a big idea, she’s hard to deter.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy,” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival. Their newest book, When Your Plan A Bombs, is due out in June.

Women, yard work and the silent treatment

Charles HartleyDown through three generations of my family, there has been one constant. When I finally succumb to doing yard work — in a disenchanted and perturbed frame of mind each time since the age of seven — the women in my life leave me alone. They go inside the house or walk away from me, stop talking, and my world goes quiet.

My grandmother, for example, used to ask me to help her rake leaves from her magnolia tree in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The tree is taller than Mount Everest and has more leaves on it than there are grains of sand on America’s East Coast.

Every year those magnolia leaves would fall. Before I went to the beach hoping to get some sun and walk the boardwalk to buy funnel cakes, my grandmother would ask me to help her rake those leaves. It seemed that every time I went there was the time for raking those leaves.

On one visit we were out there at 7 a.m. on a day when I had planned to sleep in after battling through my tough daily life back in Washington, D.C., where the world is a struggle, traffic is insane, and intellectual competition is ferocious, and politicians tell half-truths all the time.

But what choice did I have? It was her house in which I was staying. In that sense, she owned me. You can’t argue when any host asks you to do housework. You couldn’t argue with her anyway, God rest her soul, because when she wanted something to happen, it happened no matter what interference she met such as me suggesting I wanted to lie on the beach instead.

Once I started raking, I got depressed. There were so many leaves. They were like cockroaches that reinvented themselves ceaselessly. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing that doesn’t work over and over again. Source: Tony Robbins or someone he quoted in one of his mega-seminar speeches.

Once she had me trapped pushing leaves around, she would wander off to another part of the yard and pick weeds from her gardens. Talked ended. She had me going — on the ropes — and didn’t want anything or anyone to disrupt the flow.

This same dynamic occurred many times with my mother while living in her house. If she got me to cut the grass, it was striking how she would disappear into the house and not say anything to me. This was unusual because she often spoke to me. I was out in the yard and, like her mother, she didn’t want anything to happen to stop me from working. I think she thought conversation, my sight of her, might cause me to complain or debate the need to do the work. She wouldn’t allow me to see her. To this day I wonder if she was hiding in the house somewhere so that if I came in complaining, I couldn’t be able to find her to engage in any conversation.

Fast forward a few decades. The cycle continues. A few weeks ago my wife unloaded a request that I trim several of our bushes in the front yard. They were overgrown, she told me. I hadn’t noticed. I never do when it comes to this sort of thing. The less I know the better.

But I wasn’t getting out of this. You can just tell when you are going to lose. She asks if I want to use the old school manual clippers or the electric shaver. At first I think it would be good exercise to use the manual ones. Getting old, I’m concerned about losing my muscle tone. The manual ones could have been good for building my forearms.

This thought left me, however, when I thought about how much easier it would be to use the automatic blades powered by an electric cord.

Once she told me exactly what she wanted done on all the bushes, helping me visualize what was in her mind’s eye, suddenly she disappeared into the house. There I was again, alone, in the yard, in the silence, not being talked to, facing the beast, yardwork.

Clipping those bushes turned out to be less fun and more tedious than even I expected. I find that while doing yard work some tool or some bugs or some cobweb always ruin the vibe. This time it was the sweat steaming off my forehead into my eyes. It made them sting like a jelly fish. How much I prefer the beach to yardwork is incalculable.

Even more annoying than the sting-ray sweat was that the plug inserted into the electric clippers outlet would not stay in for more than a few seconds. What a piece of junk. I couldn’t get it to fasten in tightly even after trying in earnest, for once, to do something in the yard without asking anyone for help or just quitting before the job was done.

Quitting is not a good habit unless it’s quitting yard work. This is my credo.

So every few seconds, after clipping a few bush stems, the clippers would go off. I had to plug it in — again — and push start — again — wipe more acidic sweat from my eyes — again — and clip a few more branches.

Except for the lousy clippers, all was silent.

— 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.

I don’t want to be a mommy

Allia Zobel NolanIsn’t it always the way — people you hardly know ask the most personal questions. I have a ring on my finger, so the “What no husband yet?” has finally stopped. Now, strangers stare at my stomach and inquire, “Any babies yet?”

I have a pat answer for this intrusion. “Ah, no,” I murmur in a low tone and look gravely. “There’s insanity in the family.”

Time was a woman of my tender years could have said, “Get real. I’m too old,” and that would be that. Today, though, it seems nothing’s impossible. Like a bad science fiction movie, real-life doctors are fertilizing eggs in everything but a martini shaker and implanting them in females of all ages — even those on Medicare. As a result, women old enough for life alert and Polident are becoming mothers for the first time, (some even having their own grandchildren). I give these women credit. Anyone who can manage a walker and a stroller deserves a toast — Ensure, of course, because she’s going to need it.

At any age, becoming a mommy isn’t something a woman does just because she can. Choosing motherhood is the single most important decision a female can make, one most women don’t take lightly, given the commitment it involves.

It takes a special person to be a Mom. She has to be loving, understanding, self-sacrificing, brave, and have a good sense of humor. She must be as patient as Job, know as much as Google, and be as generous as a Political Action Committee in an election year. Moms have to be nurses, chauffeurs, seamstresses, teachers, cooks and friends. They have to have a cache of money stashed away for frequent emergencies, and keep a spare bed always at the ready.

In short, Moms have to be superheroes. Most (like yours and mine) are all that and more.

Still, not every female is cut out to be a mom. And I think it’s the smart woman who recognizes this. Take me, for instance. When God handed out maternal instinct, He gave it all to my sister, (who — honest to goodness — has 12 children). I figured this out early on because while other kids were playing with dolls, I was writing poems about them: “Mary’s baby has one blue eye; the other eye fell out. Mary ate it yesterday on a roll with sauerkraut.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love kids, (roasted with little russet potatoes — just  kidding). It’s just circumstances weren’t right for me to have them before. (I did get plenty of offers from donors, though. Unfortunately, none of them was affiliated with any sperm banks.) And now that my situation has changed, I don’t think I could, or that I really want to, balance deadlines and diapers, colic and bursitis.

Some psychologists contend women need to have children to feel complete, except if they’re creative in other ways, because that fills the gap in their inner spaces. I think it’s fat (or cats?) — not writing — that’s filled my gap. But then, I’ve never put much stock in such mumbo-jumbo anyway.

Still, thoughts of being a mommy did cross my mind once.  It was at the park, and my girlfriend was playing with her daughter.  The little girl laughed, gave her mom a huge hug, and I felt a sudden pang (which turned out to be gas from the garlic pickle I ate at lunch). Later, my friend wanted to leave, but her daughter didn’t.  At this, the little cherub kicked her mom in the knee and ran into the playground where a swing hit her in the head leaving us to race madly to the emergency room where the youngster got 11 stitches, bit the resident trying to give her a tetanus shot and, after letting out a screech that’d curl iron, threw up all over him.

This episode cleared my head, and at the same time reinforced my belief that it takes a special person to be a mommy — someone younger, with a stronger heart and a better stomach. Nevertheless, I have to say, though I wasn’t cut out to be one, Moms are super people. And after all, where would we be without them?

— Allia Zobel Nolan

Allia Zobel Nolan (ironically)  is the author of 200-plus children’s books and adult humor books on cats, including Cat Confessions: A Kitty Come Clean Tell-All Book and Women Who Still Love Cats Too Much. Her website is www.AlliaWrites.com.

Missing the Erma experience?
Come to Indy!

Michelle FreedFeeling a little blue because you can’t get your Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop fix this year? Gazing out the window,  just longing for the opportunity to be inspired, stimulate your brain and hang out with other writers who “get” you?

Walk away from that window and come spend a few summer days in downtown Indianapolis for the 2015 National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) Conference, June 25-28. This annual gathering of columnists and bloggers from across the country features a jam-packed agenda that will foster your creative mojo, help you grow as a writer and give you amazing stories to tell all your friends. Seriously.

This year’s lineup of speakers is spectacular and includes: Chicago Tribune columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Schmich; Judith Martin (a.k.a. Miss Manners); Pulitzer Prize winner and photojournalist Bill Foley; Tony Messenger, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; and Gene Seymour,  film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. And that’s only the beginning.

NSNC-Conference-Indy-2015Attendees will enjoy excursions to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indiana State Museum and the Kurt Vonnegut Library, just to name a few. But perhaps the most alluring attraction comes in the form of the NSNC hospitality suite. Yes, that’s right — a haven where attendees can network and exchange ideas the old-fashioned way through personal conversation. Is there anything better?

You’ll also get some free time to use as you please, whether it’s exploring all that downtown Indy has to offer, or soaking in the beauty of The Alexander, a boutique hotel recognized for its emphasis on art and design. Guests will enjoy stunning accommodations, inspirational meeting spaces, unparalleled views of the city and an energetic vibe that will help make the weekend unforgettable.

So get away from that lonely window and give yourself the gift of connecting with other writers and forming lasting friendships. We can’t wait to see you there. To register, click here.

— Michelle Freed

Michelle Freed is a writer, humorist, journalist, social commentator, public speaker and occasional cheap therapist. Her contributions have appeared online and in a variety of publications including the Indianapolis StarKansas City Star, ProjectEve.com and AimingLow.com. She is also a playwright, having written, produced and performed the one-woman show, Come Dance with Me (But First Can I Borrow Your Pants?). Find her at MichelleFreed.com; Twitter @MichelleFreed; or Facebook at facebook.com/LifeStumbler.

Turn the other cheek

Judy ClarkeElectronic devices with beeps and blinking lights and cables baffle me. Lead me to a cave. I’ll carve my messages on rocks.

Take my new smart phone, for instance. True, my ancient fliptop was beyond help, but did I really need a so-called “phone” that reports on the stock market, takes my pulse, lets me send texts, emails and question an otherworldly woman who doesn’t know the answers either? I can take photos with this “phone,” read a book or a map, listen to music, play games, get a weather report and watch a movie. The “phone” part of the phone seems incidental.

No one calls me.

My technical advisers — family — insisted it was time. So I bought a phone that seldom rings, and, when it does, I’m not sure how to answer it. Son-in-law Martin called a few days ago. “Hello,” I said to no one there. Three more calls, and we finally connected. Martin thought something was wrong since I never call him and I’d rung so many times. I said I was returning his calls.

He laughed. “Oh, must’ve been ‘butt dialing.’”

Ack, really‽

That same evening, our blank TV screen advised that our service was down. I’d figured that out because the screen was…um…blank. I called help and after intense questioning to identify myself and our equipment — think CIA interrogation — the young woman instructed, “Unplug the cable box from the power source.”

I followed the cable to the power strip. Done!

“Now, what is the bar code number on the back of the box?”

I couldn’t see a bar code. “Where would it be?” I asked.

“Upper right,” she said.

“Nope, nothing there.” I recited all the numbers I saw, but none was right.

I  should say here, that the floor behind our TV is a nest of cables that coil around each other in an incestuous stranglehold.  As I studied the entwined mess, I realized I had not only unplugged the wrong box, but I was looking for numbers on the wrong box, too.

I explained what I’d done. “Sorry,” I said, “but you should see what I’m dealing with here!” My laugh was hysteria-tinged because now I was wedged between wall and TV, sitting in a nest of dust bunnies. Getting out would not be pretty.

She giggled. “No problem,” she said. “Let me know when you’ve found the bar code number.”

“Bingo,” I yelled.

“Now tell me what you see on your screen,” she said.

“Hang on while I crawl around to the front.”

She explained the next steps as patiently as I hope she would explain to her own grandmother — service reconnecting, channels reloading, etc. “Wait 15 minutes before trying to select a channel,” she reminded, then bid me good night.

Next day, Bill, my husband’s companion, arrived to take Peter and Nobby to their weekly therapy dog nursing home visit. Bill and I chatted while we waited for Peter. Repetitive beeps came from behind Bill, but he wasn’t “pocket dialing.” No, he was leaning against the stove’s set-timer button.

A while later — I knew it was only mid-afternoon — when I looked at the stove’s clock, it read 6:15. Apparently Bill had “turned the other cheek” when he moved to the left, and in the doing had set the clock several hours ahead. This without a phone in his pocket! What a guy.

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self).

Chloe and Poppie go to the White House

Jerry-Zezima1-219x300Since becoming a grandfather two years ago, I’ve really been on a roll. But nothing could top taking my granddaughter, Chloe, to Washington, D.C., for the White House Easter Egg Roll.

On Easter Sunday, I (known to Chloe as Poppie) drove from Long Island, N.Y., to the nation’s capital with my wife, Sue (Nini); our younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy); and, of course, Chloe (Chloe). We stayed with our older daughter, Katie (Aunt Katie), and her husband, Dave (Uncle Dave), who live and work in Washington.

Katie, a Washington Post reporter who until recently had covered the White House (she’s now on the campaign trail for the paper), got four tickets to the Easter Egg Roll, a national tradition dating back to the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, whose wife, known as Lemonade Lucy, banned alcoholic beverages from the White House. In keeping with a family tradition, Katie and Dave had them at their house.

The next day — which was 75 degrees and sunny, with a refreshing breeze and no humidity, a rarity in D.C. — Chloe, Lauren, Sue and I showed up at the waiting area, tickets in hand and ready to roll.

We had plenty of company. Over the course of the day, which began at 7:30 a.m., about 35,000 people converged on the White House grounds. We were in the last group — our time slot was 4:45-6:45 p.m. — but the line was still so long that we must have been in a different ZIP code.

At the checkpoint, Sue and Lauren had to empty their pocketbooks.

“I don’t carry a pocketbook,” I told one of the agents.

“That’s OK, sir,” he responded. “Empty your pockets.”

He went through my wallet.

“Please don’t harm the moths,” I said.

He kept a straight face and handed it back to me.

Even Chloe’s bag was searched.

“Those diapers aren’t mine,” I noted.

I’m surprised I wasn’t arrested.

As we waited in line, Lauren asked an Egg Roll volunteer named Sheila if Peppa Pig, Chloe’s favorite cartoon character, was still there.

“Yes,” Sheila replied.

“How about President and Mrs. Obama?” I asked.

“They were here this morning,” Sheila said.

“My granddaughter won’t mind,” I said. “She’ll be more excited to see Peppa.”

At that point, Chloe wasn’t excited about anything. In fact, she was sleeping in her stroller.

A volunteer named Jean offered to write Lauren’s phone number on Chloe’s wrist band in case Chloe got lost.

“I’m always being told to get lost,” I said. “Will you put my wife’s phone number on my wrist band?”

“No,” said Jean. “Nobody in your family is going to come and get you.”

I felt sorry for Jean, who said she had been there since the gates opened that morning. “It’s been a long day,” she said wearily. “After this, I’m going home and having a cocktail.”

“Where do you live?” I asked. “We’ll join you.”

“Come on over,” Jean said.

After about 45 minutes, we finally reached the South Lawn of the White House, which was swarming with excited kids, costumed characters, friendly volunteers, awestruck parents and one confused grandfather.

The star of the show — Chloe, of course — woke up as we approached the Egg Roll area. I had the honor of accompanying her.

A volunteer named Carolyn handed Chloe a wooden spoon so she could roll an orange hard-boiled egg down a grassy lane about 10 yards long. There were several other lanes, each with a spoon-wielding child and an adult.

The race was on. Or it would have been if I hadn’t dropped the egg in front of Chloe and across the starting line before the whistle blew.

“I cheated, didn’t I?” I said sheepishly.

“Yes, you did,” Carolyn replied.

Then she blew the whistle. The crowd roared.

“Come on, Chloe!” I cried, showing her how to roll the egg with her wooden spoon.

She’s only 2, so she didn’t quite get the hang of it at first, but she figured it out in pretty short order and — with help from Poppie — made her way toward the finish line. Sue and Lauren cheered her on.

Chloe didn’t win, but she got the ultimate compliment from Carolyn: “We saved the best for last.”

Only one thing could have been better — a photo op with Peppa Pig. Sure enough, the pink porker and her younger brother, George, were greeting their little fans in the shadow of the South Portico. Chloe hugged them both and posed for pictures.

At day’s end, she was back in her stroller, holding a commemorative wooden egg signed by the Obamas’ dogs, Bo and Sunny.

The little girl had the time of her life. So did I because, as Chloe would agree, that’s the way Poppie rolls.

— 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 five 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.

Reflections of Erma