Roy Blount Jr., who’s been described as “a humorist and social critic in the tradition of Mark Twain, Will Rogers, H.L. Mencken and W.C. Fields,” will kick off the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop next spring.
A master storyteller and prolific writer, Blount has written two dozen books and is a familiar voice on NPR’s Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me! He’s part of an all-star workshop lineup that includes a staged reading of the new one-woman play, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, starring Barbara Chisholm, who most recently appeared in the Oscar-nominated film Boyhood.
The workshop is slated for March 31-April 2, 2016, and online registration opens at noon (EST) Tuesday, Dec. 1. A link will be posted at www.humorwriters.org at that time. The registration fee is $425 with a number of free scholarships available for University of Dayton students, beginning in January.
Besides Blount, the workshop’s keynoters include:
• Amy Ephron, bestselling novelist, journalist and contributing editor at Vogue;
• Kathy Kinney (known for her iconic role as “Mimi” on The Drew Carey Show) and Cindy Ratzlaff (marketing guru behind The South Beach Diet). The longtime friends are the creative force behind the Queen of Your Life book series, calendar and blog; and
• Leighann Lord, stand-up comedian, actress, commentator and author who’s known as “the Urban Erma.”
The humorous and poignant Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End is billed 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?’” Twin sisters Allison and Margaret Engel wrote the script for the play, which is receiving its world premiere at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., Oct. 9-Nov. 8 as part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival. While Chisholm’s performance is open only to workshop registrants, the playwrights hope to bring the one-woman show to Dayton at a later date.
Wendy Liebman, a semifinalist on season nine of America’s Got Talent and a frequent guest on late-night TV shows, will teach a stand-up comedy boot camp and serve as emcee for the attendee stand-up comedy night.
The workshop will once again feature “Pitchapalooza” — described as the “American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler.” Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s wildly popular, entertaining event has drawn thousands of people into bookstores, writing conferences and book festivals all over the country — and captured attention from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and NPR. Writers get one minute to pitch a book idea before a panel. The judges pick a winner, who will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for the book idea.
The workshop also will include a special panel, “Ask the Agents,” moderated by Brian Klems, online editor of Writer’s Digest, and a new add-on session, “Speed Dating for Writers,” where writers meet briefly with a variety of pros to learn writing and publishing tips.
Erma Bombeck’s humor and influence on contemporary writers will receive special attention at the workshop. Former Good Morning America producer Ed Miller and the workshop’s popular emcee Patricia Wynn Brown will offer “Mayhem in the Morning: Laughing With Erma,” featuring some of Bombeck’s funniest television clips and a conversation with the Bombeck family. Humorist and feminist scholar Gina Barreca, a former keynoter, will teach a workshop, “Erma 101,” geared to workshop newcomers.
The workshop’s faculty includes two other former keynoters — Emmy Award-winning writer and author Alan Zweibel and comedian and author Judy Carter — among the 25 experienced writers and publishing professionals. Here’s the full slate:
• Elaine Ambrose, founder of Mill Park Publishing and author or co-author of 10 books, including Midlife Cabernet: Love and Laughter After 50 and Menopause Sucks
• Gina Barreca, feminist scholar and author of nine books, including the soon-to-be-released If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse? Questions and Thoughts for Loud, Smart Women in Turbulent Times
• Tracy Beckerman, nationally syndicated humor columnist and the author of two books, including Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir: How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs
• Nancy Berk, radio personality, host of the celebrity podcast Whine At 9 and online entertainment columnist for Parade magazine. Her book College Bound and Gagged can be seen in the Tina Fey movie Admission.
• David Braughler, founder and CEO of Braughler Books
• Patricia Wynn Brown, performer, producer and author of Hair-A-Baloo: The Revealing Comedy and Tragedy on Top of Your Head and Momma Culpa: One Mother Comes Clean and Makes her Maternal Confession. She has performed her humor-memoir Hair Theater shows nationally.
• Judy Carter, comedian, speaking coach and bestselling author of The Comedy Bible, The Message of You and The Message of You Journal: Finding Extraordinary Stories in an Ordinary Day
• Rachel Ekstrom Courage, literary agent at Irene Goodman Literary Agency
• Nick Courage, book marketer, author and co-founder of Littsburgh, Pittsburgh’s literary community
• Arielle Eckstut, agent-at-large with Levine Greenberg Literary Agency in New York and the author of nine books, including The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published
• Sorche Elizabeth Fairbank, literary agent at Fairbank Literary Representation, which she founded in 2002
• Rachelle Gardner, literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency
• Katrina Kittle, author of five novels, creative writing teacher and manuscript consultant
• Brian A. Klems, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular parenting book, Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters
• Adair Lara, writer, teacher and author of 11 books, including Naked, Drunk and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay
• Jenny Lawson (aka “The Bloggess”), author of two New York Times’ bestsellers, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir
• Anna Lefler, humorist, comedy writer and author of two books, including her latest novel Preschooled
• Wendy Liebman, stand-up comic who’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, Ferguson and Hollywood Squares. She was a semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent
• Joel Madison, sitcom writer for more than a dozen TV shows, including Roseanne and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
• Cathryn Michon, best-selling author, actress, Hollywood screenwriter and director who stars in and directs Muffin Top: A Love Story
• Ed Miller, former Good Morning America television producer
• Shannon Olson, director of creative writing at St. Cloud State University and author of two best-selling novels, Welcome to My Planet: Where English is Sometimes Spoken and Children of God Go Bowling
• Susan Pohlman, writing coach/instructor, freelance writer and author of the memoir, Halfway to Each Other
• Sharon Short, executive director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and author of a coming-of-age novel, My One Square Inch of Alaska, two mystery series and a collection of humorous essays
• David Henry Sterry, author of 15 books — from memoir to young adult fiction — actor and regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Co-wrote The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published
• Alan Zweibel, producer, novelist and Emmy Award-winning writer who has worked on such productions as Saturday Night Live, PBS’ Great Performances, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show
For a description of all the workshop sessions, click here.
If past workshops are any indication, the popular event will fill up quickly. The 2014 workshop sold out in 12 hours.
The 2016 workshop is expected to bring more than 350 beginning and professional writers to Dayton. Why the enormous appeal? The workshop has attracted such household names over the years as Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Nancy Cartwright, Don Novello, Gail Collins, Garrison Keillor and Alan Zweibel, but the personal involvement of Erma Bombeck’s family makes the event at her alma mater memorable and sets it apart from the myriad other writers’ workshops offered across the country. Alumnus Bill Bombeck and his children, Betsy, Andy and Matt, have regularly attended the workshops. In 2010, the workshop was featured on “CBS Sunday Morning.”
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is co-sponsored by the University of Dayton’s Alumni Association, College of Arts and Sciences and Bookstore; National Society of Newspaper Columnists; Books & Co.; Dayton Marriott Hotel; Dayton Mailing Services; and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Endowment.
It’s hard to be human. We all have something. I just happen to be obsessive-compulsive.
That means if I ever have to plunge my hand in a toilet to retrieve something, especially something as personal as eye glasses or jewelry, I’m not quite right for the next two or three days.
I wouldn’t wish obsessive-compulsive behavior on anyone. But they do say that knowing is half the battle, so I comprised a basic checklist for those who think they might have OCD but aren’t quite sure whether or not they need professional help.
If you have ever broken a deadbolt by pushing and pushing on it while chanting to yourself in your head, this door is locked; this door is locked; this door is locked, you might have OCD.
If you routinely spend 30 minutes of your baking time scraping out every little smear of batter from your mixing bowls into a pan and then another 10 minutes making sure that batter is level, you might have OCD.
If while walking across a parking lot you must hear your car horn a minimum of three times before you’ll believe the car is really locked, you might be obsessive-compulsive.
If you consistently ask your kids at least five times to clear their dishes, do homework or put away their shoes, they could be brats, but you’re probably fine. However, if their dishes must be stacked in perfect towers; their homework must be free of eraser smudges; and their shoes must be lined up against the wall in order from smallest to largest, then you might have OCD.
If you haul an arsenal of disinfectant spray, wet wipes, face masks and hand sanitizer with you any time you enter a public restroom with little children in tow, you’re a wise mama. But if you are prone to full-blown panic attacks while standing within a dozen feet or less of a portable potty, you might be obsessive-compulsive.
If you run over a speed bump or pothole, worry it might have been a person, turn around to check, then run over it again only to worry it might really have been a person this time, you might have OCD.
If you walk around your house with a pocket mirror finding different sources of light in which to examine your makeup, you’re definitely vain but probably not obsessive-compulsive. But if you have plucked your eyebrows bare, because you couldn’t get them even, you might be obsessive-compulsive.
If you are convinced your hair is falling out, so you save the strands from your hairbrush in order to have plenty for a wig when the time comes, you might have OCD.
If you have to repeat something to your husband and then ask if he’s really listening, he’s not listening and you should throw a hard piece of fruit at him. But if you want to keep throwing that fruit at least three more times to make sure you hit him square between the eyes, you might be obsessive-compulsive.
If you get jealous when your husband flirts with a pretty woman, that’s perfectly normal, but if you get jealous when he laughs with his cross-eyed, gimpy-legged cousin, you might have OCD.
If it takes you at least two hours in the post office to mail Christmas packages, because you check each line of every address on each box at least a dozen times before checking them again one last time, you might be OCD.
If the area rug has to be parallel with the couch and the recliner at an exact 30-degree angle in relation to the television before you can relax to watch a movie, you might be obsessive-compulsive.
If you worry you could go to jail any day now, but you’re not sure exactly why, you might have OCD.
If you are planning on going back and reading this post through a few more times just to make extra certain you’re not OCD…well, I really hate to say this, but…
You are definitely obsessive-compulsive!
— Hillary Ibarra
Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org and was recently published at Hahas for Hoohas. She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.
Remember spending a whole day at the mall popping in and out of stores? Dreaming of attending the sort of event that would warrant buying that leopard print wrap dress you eye-humped in the store window before a sales girl shooed you away?
But then you went and had kids. Now that dream is about as attainable as a rump-sculpting cheesecake.
If you’re like me, the closest you come to retail therapy is a weekly grocery run. Hell, my trips to Whole Foods border on religious experiences. I’ll admit it. It hits every item on my checklist. And here are a few more reasons to embrace that extra twenty cents they charge per mushroom (grown in chemical-free baby platypus droppings).
Climate — Am I the only one with a parka in her car even in mid July solely for the purpose of possibly having to brave the arctic tundra of a frozen food aisle? I know not how, but by some non-GMO magic, they’ve managed to create a climactic anomaly inside of my Whole Foods. It’s always warm enough within to luxuriate in the feel of their moisturizers made from the fossilized hooves of free-range pygmy unicorns slathered on your bare arms. Yet it’s always cool enough to warrant a $7 organic goat’s milk chai latte with agave nectar.
Coffee Bar — Speaking of the coffee, they have it right there in the store. Next to the sorbet. And brownies. Because the planners at my favorite grocery store know how much I want to treat myself to a little something after the week I’ve had. On multiple occasions I’ve pretended we were out of milk to dupe the husband into watching our kids so I could escape for thirty minutes to lick warm foam off my upper lip in kind lighting while browsing $50 wedges of cheese or BPA free reusable sandwich boxes.
Kids Club — At the service desk, you can sign your little ones up for their Kids Club. Then every time you visit, your kid can whip out his membership card for a free gift. If the words, “Don’t you want to see what the special surprise snack is today?” makes my kid go limp long enough to clip the safety seat restraints, I’ll take that win.
Story Time — Most stores have a kid’s activity once a week. I perch in the cafe with my double llama’s milk iced whipped cappuccino and watch the kids sit in a circle singing “five little monkeys (are displaced from their homes due to deforestation)” while clapping. Then they do a craft. A free craft. Usually with glitter. THAT I DON’T HAVE TO CLEAN UP. Then they ply them with raw kale chips and coconut milk. My cappuccino practically pays for itself.
Hot Food Bar — The last thing I want to do after a successful trip to the grocery store is have to cook. If I slap a spoonful from every option into those brown take-out boxes of happiness, not only am I encouraging my kids to try new foods, but the odds of them liking at least one of those options are mathematically solid. Even if your little minions defy those odds, the staff of Whole Foods have you covered. The first thing they always carry out and drop into those chrome vats of hot water the moment the clock strikes 10:45? Mac and cheese.
Forget Disney, Whole Foods is the most magical place on Earth. Though Disney is probably more affordable.
— Elly Lonon
When her oncologist suggested learning a new language to help recover from chemo brain, Elly Lonon chose to learn HTML, which led to the creation of her blog, BugginWord.com. Her writing has been featured at Scary Mommy, Club Mid, SexIs, Your Tango, Sammiches And Psych Meds, and a disappointing number of now-defunct sites. Her memoir, Lymphomania, will hopefully find a home with a publisher very soon. She really, really hates writing in the third person.
I have horrible dreams every Thanksgiving.
It was the worst holiday of my entire life. It was 10 years ago, but the memory is etched in my mind. I am a picture-perfect, Hallmark kind of gal for the holidays (only). I listen to Christmas carols while I bake pies. I get dizzy on the aroma of turkey and stuffing wafting through the air. I love the table decorations. I just love it all! And then came the Thanksgiving Day that changed everything! Everything!
The table was set with decorative candles. The plates held napkins shaped like cornucopia. The 20-pound turkey was slowly cooking in the oven. Everything was on schedule for a perfect dinner. We headed to our kid’s high school football game. My daughter’s cheering squad was freezing in the midst of a pyramid, but our team was winning. The fact that it was fifteen degrees with wind chills of zero didn’t dampen our spirits. It was Thanksgiving and I had so many blessing to count.
My in-laws, sister-in-law and her family arrived while we were at the game. They proceeded to go in the house and wait until we arrived. I reminded them to give our English Mastiff, Winston, treats so they could get in easily. We got home 30 minutes later. I was expecting to inhale the aroma of my delicious turkey when I opened the front door. When we walked in, we were smacked with the distinct odor of dog crap.
My mother-in-law noticed the odor when they first arrived. She proceeded to do a dog crap hunt. She checked every room downstairs before she headed upstairs, where she toured each room. I’m not sure that was really for the dog crap hunt. She used to check on my housekeeping. She came back to report, “It’s a mystery!” That is when I noticed mushy dog crap on her fancy black boots. She had just walked through our entire house spreading little odor bombs as she went. At the sight of brown mush on her new expensive black boots, she began to shriek, “Get it off! Get it off!”
Dinner was late. The turkey burned. The mashed potatoes were lumpy and bumpy. The green bean casserole had no fried onions of top. I’d spent an hour chopping and preparing my homemade stuffing all for naught. It looked like a petrified rock, smothered in gravy.
Instead of tending to my fabulous dinner plans, I was pre-spotting and deodorizing carpets with tissues stuffed up my nose. I was crying as my husband cranked up the carpet cleaning machine. Not just one carpet! Nine rooms of carpeting and the halls. I was not feeling very blessed.
My in-laws and my sister-in-law have all passed away. I’ll never Thanksgiving with them again. I cried over that fiasco when it happened. Now I’d give anything to have another dog crap fiasco. This time I’d order a take-out turkey dinner and check their shoes before they entered the house. And I’d hug them all really hard.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
— Anne Bardsley
Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at Anne Bardsley: Perfectly Imperfect.
I used to be a Mom with benefits, but now that my daughters are almost grown teenagers, life at Pittman Palace is anything but picture perfect. And that’s just the way I like it.
Hungry? Learn how to cook. It’s an invaluable skill that will serve you for the rest of your eating life.
Need a ride? You’re perfectly capable of walking. Call a taxi. Or better yet, walk.
You want what? Wouldn’t we all! That’s what jobs are for. Go get one.
When my kids then call me the Meanest Mom in the World, I take it as a compliment. It means I’m doing my job. The goal is to raise them to be able to find their own ways out of a paper bag. In other words, if you give a teenager a fish, she will eat for a day. If you teach a teenager to fish, she eats for a lifetime. Enlighten her further, and she owns a chain of seafood restaurants!
Admittedly, it’s hard not to cater to them, especially with the college-is-just-around-the-corner clock ticking away in my heart. I’d actually love nothing more than to do their laundry, color coordinate it, fold it neatly and place it in lavender-scented drawers; give up my own hot (ha!) social life in order to chauffeur them all over town; fill their wallets with as much money as they wanted to spend on new clothes and the latest gadgets; and sit them down to home-cooked meals every night.
I sometimes get soft and surrender to the Tough Love, DIY Mom by offering up my services, but it usually only frightens them when I’m nice.
“Are you okay Mom?” Susannah will say, backing slowly away from me as I try to hand her a glass of milk and her favorite chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven when she comes in the door from school. “Did you poison them or something? What’s wrong? Why are you being so nice to us?”
“What are you talking about?” I’ll ask incredulously, wiping my hands on the yellow tea cup adorned apron I reserve for these special moments.
She’ll then look at her sister, pleading for back-up support.
“Mom’s just in one of her ‘I’m going to try to be a Mom’ moods today, Susannah,” she’ll say. “Don’t worry. You can have a cookie. She’ll snap out of it soon.”
But the joke was on Nell when I didn’t. In fact, Mrs. Nice Mom camped out in our house for an entire week. It started with the batch of cookies and continued when I made a secret pact with Nell to actually write her English paper comparing Glengarry Glen Ross to Death of a Salesman. There’s a first time for everything, and this was it.
What’s one paper I reasoned, especially when I happen to know several parents who actually do their high schooler’s homework for them on a regular basis. Yup! One mom in particular will actually complain to me about how hard it is to complete the assignments on time with everything else on her plate.
“I was up until one o’clock in the morning writing her English paper,” she’ll say to me. “And then I had to study for the trig test so I could go over it with her before the midterm!”
Another family — and I know this for a fact — went as far as to hire a $150-an-hour SAT tutor for their daughter — STARTING IN KINDERGARTEN! She’s now a senior in high school and has a near-perfect score whereas my daughter took the test cold. She did well, but I was secretly seething and then outwardly complaining to her guidance counselor about the unfairness of it all.
I call it Revenge of the Anti-Mom! If they’re going to un-level the playing field, then so would I! When Nell said she was all for it, we bonded like thieves.
“How’s it going Mom?” she’d ask, sitting down with me at the kitchen table, asking if I’d like a cup of tea.
“Piece of cake!” I said, giving her a high five. “I can whip this off in no time. Relax. I’ve got your back, babe.”
A few days and two plays later, I emailed her the completed essay.
That’s when she came downstairs.
“Mom, we gotta talk,” she said.
“Why? What?” I asked.
“I would never turn that in,” she said.”I can’t do it.”
Beaming with pride at my most precious, principled and perfect daughter, I handed her a piece of chocolate I pretended was just for her whereas I really found it under the driver’s seat after Trick or Treating with a carload of her sister’s friends.
“I’m so proud of you, honey,” I said, watching her peel at the wrapper. “What a girl.”
“Mom, I hate to tell you this, but I would’ve been tempted to use it if it were any good. You really need some help if you’re going to get through high school.”
— 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.
You’re in line. You know, the one EVERYONE else is in. It’s got the foot tapper, the kicking toddler, the sigher and, let’s not forget, the item counter. Yes, you have 17 items in the express checkout and this person is loudly counting EVERY SINGLE one! The only redeeming thing about that moment is that YOU are a MOM and you have “THE PURSE.”
As all moms know, the purse is not just an accessory, it is our portable house. Filled with all kinds of treasures that only we can appreciate. The purse has become an extension of our body. It can be wrapped around us in all kinds of ways. If placed correctly across the body, it actually does the same thing a Victoria’s Secret push-up bra does. Ok, so maybe only on one side, but for those of us that are boob challenged, this is a small slice of heaven!
As I reach in to get my wallet, I notice the item counter looking my way. I proceed to give him the Mom stink eye and continue digging. It’s got to be here. Where is my wallet? What did I just put my hand in? Yes, most days I am “that purse Mom.” So in honor or horror (you be the judge of that) of this big old hot mess, here are the 13 reasons why my purse screams, “Mom.”
1. Headless Lego men. I counted 11 of those bad boys one day. I’m a bit concerned that they were ALL missing their heads. Do I have a serial killer in the making?
2. Half-eaten turkey sandwich wrapped in a napkin. So that is where the smell was coming from.
3. Partially unwrapped tampon. Cooper thought it was a sucker and it almost made it to his lips until Hanna screamed, “No Cooper, that is for mom’s period.” You can only guess where this is going. “Mom, what’s a period?” Yes, right then and there, we had the menstruation talk. My 5-year-old now knows that every 28 days, mom is NUTS!
4. Underwear. One pair for each kid and an extra. I’m still a bit puzzled as to where that extra pair came from.
5. Crayons. Broken, melted, chewed on and a few with dried-up boogers on the tip. I may have watched a kid (not saying who) use it for a nose picker.
6. 50-cent pieces covered in gum. How come I have so many of these, and why are they wrapped in gum?
7. Half-eaten apple squeezes and snack packs — all opened and possibly a bit moldy.
8. Random items ALL taken from restaurants. Fortune cookies, catsup packets, salt packets, chop sticks, sugar packets and drink umbrellas. It’s like a party in my purse!
9. Clam shells. Random smelly treasures we just had to take from the beach.
10. Used dental floss. If the police ever need a DNA sample because of #1, they will have NO problem finding it in my purse!
11. A copy of the book You Are Doing a Freaking Great Job. Enough said.
12. Loose candy corn. Not sure how long they have been in there or what else they have been mixing it up with, but they sure taste good!
13. Two bottles of Ibuprofen and one tincture of Bachs Rescue Remedy. Cooper likes to call those two things, “Mom’s medicine.” You got that right, short stack! Wouldn’t you need that if your purse looked like mine!
Nowhere on that list does it mention Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, nail clippers, UNOPENED snack packs, Wet-Ones, sewing kit or those tiny little Kleenex packs. Of course not, because those are all things that moms SHOULD have in their purse.
Sorry kids, you had the unfortunate luck of being born to “that purse Mom.” Hey, I figure this teaches them the ever-so-important skill of talking to strangers. On many occasions, they have had to ask a complete stranger for a Band-Aid, wet one or a Kleenex. Oh wait, they’re not supposed to talk to strangers. Cheese and rice, I really am “that Mom.”
I’m not sure if I had all 13 items in my purse on that particular day. What I do know is that the item counter guy got a lesson in the contents of “the Mom purse” when I dumped it out on the counter. Don’t worry, I offered him some candy corn as a thank you for being so patient!
— Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg is a full-time school counselor with two kids, ages 5 and 7. Her background includes a B.S. in exercise science and a M.Ed. in counseling. She has never considered herself a writer, just a woman with a lot of random thoughts in her head and access to a computer.
In which the author interviews a reluctant subject about life in the Big House.
Due to the benevolence of the Social Security Administration* we occasionally receive a statement detailing what we have earned at what I like to call the “Darcy Family Compound.” Being the sort that is easily amused, I enjoy perusing the document while reminiscing about the year I clawed my way out of the poverty level for the “ Non-Farm Family of Four” or the year I finally achieved the enviable five-digits-west-of-the-decimal-point status.
But for 1986 I noticed that “Spike,” as Mr. Darcy has chosen to be named for the benefit of this blog, did not contribute to our tax base. “How is it that you were not participating in our economy that year?” I asked. Spike replied that he had been a “guest of the county.” I knew that due to numerous misdemeanors and felony DWI’s he had done some time but had not known it was for almost an entire year. I used this newfound knowledge to ask Spike some questions about prison life.
Did you have tin cups that you rattled on the bars of your cell or pounded on your table?
We were only allowed to have spoons; there were no knives or forks. We had plastic dishes and cups, and there was no pounding or rattling of any sort. We were in the county lock-up at Yaphank (Long Island, N.Y.) and nobody wanted to go back to Riverhead, where conditions were worse.
Is that why they call it “sent up the river”?
That “river” is the Hudson; those guys were going upstate to Ossining or some state penitentiary.
So when you were in the Big House…
It wasn’t the “Big House.” Again, that refers to some joint upstate, not the county lock-up.
Was there at any time, anyone playing the harmonica like in the movies?
No, and nobody was singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” or “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” We weren’t allowed to have any musical instruments or art supplies and before you ask, we weren’t allowed any pet birds like in “The Birdman of Alcatraz.” Also, are all your questions going to be this idiotic?
Probably yes, and speaking of “Alcatraz,” did you guys spend all your time plotting your escape?
No, pretty much we were just doing our time so we could get out. We didn’t want to jeopardize our release date by acting stupid.
Gotta ask, what finally made them lock you up?
I won’t lie; I decapitated a fire hydrant by the A.L. Jacobsen Funeral Home, (aka “Al’s Funeral Parlor”). When I was chained to a desk at the precinct, they told me I had flooded out the basement and there were bodies floating downstairs. I never ran into another car, or person, or hurt anyone, which I might have if I hadn’t been locked up.
What did you do all day in jail?
We all had jobs, like garbage detail or food prep or something. We used to watch all the cop shows like “Baretta” and “Rockford Files.” A couple of guys were always trying to make “hooch,” which is made with yeast, sugar and fruit juice. You just pray that it ferments… Okay, no more questions.
Spike had evidently run out of patience with my probing journalistic style, but I have found out from previous nosiness that there were no riots, hunger strikes or people making blades out of sharpened toothbrushes, and certainly no re-enactments of “Thriller.”
Eventually, with the support of family and friends, and to the everlasting gratitude of the Orange and White Cab Company, Spike made the courageous decision to stop driving. Yes, it was the driving that was causing all the trouble in his life and it was time to put an end to it. That was 1987.
But later, thanks to Spike’s involvement in AA., sanity, grace and clarity ensued and by 1992 Spike quit drinking and now has 24 years of sobriety. He has no animosity towards the system that jailed him as it may have saved lives other than his own.
*This column is not commenting on the origin, strength or future of Social Security, the author leaves that to greater minds than hers.
— Ann Rita Darcy
Ann Rita Darcy is a nurse and grandmother who lives on Long Island.
My cheeks burn and the blister on my heel oozes, as I peel the backing off a Band-Aid. Paparazzi and stilettos. It’s not as easy as it looks. I wonder if this is how the Kardashians got started.
My good friend, Stacey, talented writer and photographer, agreed to take some headshots to use for my “social media presence,” you know, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YikYak.
When I spotted Stacey at the agreed-upon location, I waved. She fiddled with her camera strap and turned in my direction. Then she sized me up like Giuliana Rancic on “Fashion Police.”
“Take off the sweater. It doesn’t work. Too bright.”
Damn. In my quest for just the right outfit, I rejected a navy sweater, a denim jacket, two shawls and a caftan. Why didn’t I bring them? I knew I couldn’t argue with her well-established eye for color and exposure, not to mention her know-it-all attitude. Nevertheless, I couldn’t imagine enduring this photo shoot in such revealing attire.
“No way,” I protested. “My blouse is sleeveless, and I hate my arms.”
I slipped out an offending appendage from the blinding garment. “See?” I said, wiggling my generous underwing.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, ripping the cardigan from my vice-like grip. “You look fine.”
Easy for her to say, a smart-alecky 10-years-my-junior, oblivious to the sadistic sag preparing to ravage her youthful tautness.
Ms. Bossy sat me down and started snapping, positioning me this way and that, head tilted, looking up, straight ahead, or off toward the distant strip mall.
After clicking our way through scores of shots, we found a bench and started scrolling through the images on the camera’s two-inch display screen. How the hell am I supposed to select from that microscopic screen? I thought. I grabbed my readers and leaned in.
“I like that one,” I said, squinting to avoid the flabby wing flap.
“No, I’m slouching in that one.”
“Your smile is nice in that one.”
When a shot of her teenage son sinking a lay-up on the basketball court at his high school gymnasium appeared, Stacey tapped the OFF button. “That’s it,” she said. “I’ll email the ones you picked.”
“What do I owe you?” I said, following her to her car as she loaded her gear.
She climbed in the driver’s side and rolled down the window. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, waving me off with a well-defined triceps.
A couple of days later, the pictures arrived. I opened each one on my computer monitor. On the big screen, I discovered, it’s impossible to avoid the bare blubber. But, aside from the slack-skinned limbs, they looked good — in focus, proper lighting, no shadows, suitable positioning of subject — middle-aged, J.K. Rowling wannabe, absent discernible muscle tone. The only negative was, well, said subject, me.
Nonplussed, I forwarded them to my even more youthful daughter for a second opinion. Days later, Kristen replied. “Mom, seriously? Hire a professional. You really could use a little retouching. Love you. xxxooo.” She inherited her keen sense of diplomacy from her father’s side.
Which brings me to my burning cheeks and oozing blister. Suzan, the pro I hired at my sweet daughter’s urging, led me up and down Main Street for an hour at dusk in nearby Pleasanton’s quaint downtown district.
As expected, with her expert camera angles and soft focus lens, my face looked just like a baby’s butt. At least I think that’s the look she was going for.
Eat your heart out, Kim K.
— Camille DeFer Thompson
Camille DeFer Thompson is a freelance writer whose work has been featured on popular women’s blogs, including midlifeboulevard.com. Her short fiction and non-fiction is published in a number of collected works. “Jolt of Reality” recounts her near fatal attempt at DIY in Not Your Mother’s Book…On Home Improvement. In Clash of the Couples, she describes a dream European vacation gone horribly wrong in “Neurotic in Lisbon.” Follow Camille’s humor blog at www.camilledeferthompson.com.