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Mike Sacks

Mike SacksViking/Penquin will publish Mike Sacks’ fourth book, Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers, this month (June 2014). It’s a sequel to his 2009 book, And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Humor Writers About Their Craft.  He has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, Radar, Funny or Die, MAD, New York Observer, Premiere, Believer, Vice, Maxim, Women’s Health and Salon. He has worked at The Washington Post, and is currently on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair.

An open letter to my ovaries

(Reposted by permission of Tracy Beckerman. This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post on Oct. 18, 2013.)

Dear Jezebel and Medusa,

I thought it was time I wrote you, my dear ovaries, a letter. Word on the street has it that you are not happy about the fact that you are still in business.

I don’t blame you. You’ve been doing the whole egg release thing since I was 12. I’d be bored if I had the same job for 37 years, too. But rather than just pack up and close shop like most middle-aged ovaries would do, you just keep on truckin’ on. And then every month you make a big stink about the fact that you’re overworked and underappreciated.

Really ovaries, really?

Recently you even enlisted the help of Ursula, my uterus. Now all three of you are protesting each month.

Is this my fault? No! I was perfectly okay with the idea that you could go into retirement at this point in my life. My kids are teens. Older teens. As far as I’m concerned, the kitchen is closed. There will be no more buns in the oven. I actually think there is a design flaw here. I think once I made the decision I was done having kids, you all could have just shut down production. Closed the plant. Moved to a senior community in Florida or whatever it is that retired ovaries do during their golden years. Yeah, I get that there are some important hormones that you make that keep my bones strong and my mood stable. But clearly that last part isn’t working so well anyway.

I don’t mean to sound like an ingrate, because you ladies have served me well over the years. You (along with my husband) are responsible for the two greatest joys in my life. Of course I could have done without the 36 hours of labor for the first kid, but I don’t think that was your fault. Then there was that cyst on Jezebel that hurt so bad I wanted to punch Bill O’Reilly. (I actually wanted to do that anyway and was just looking for a reason, so thanks for that). But overall, you two have been pretty awesome.

But lately, you’ve been showing your mean side. Awful cramps. Erratic schedules. Bloating. Seriously, I get that you’re unhappy, but do we really need all the drama?

Get with your ovary union. Tell me your demands. I’m sure we can reach a settlement.

This country was built on cooperation and compromise. Just ask the federal government! On second thought, scratch that.

I think we all know it’s time for a change. Do you really want to be the oldest functioning ovaries on the block? There is a great deal of honor in quitting at the top of your game. I, personally, would be happy to give you an award for your years of service. You have functioned ovary and above the call of duty.

I was told that this time in our lives is called Peri-menopause. I’m not sure who this Peri chick is, but I don’t think she was invited to the party. Let’s work together to kick her out of the sorority and let Menopause hang out with us. I actually think she’d be a lot more fun…

Period.

With warmest regards,

Tracy

— Tracy Beckerman

Tracy Beckerman writes the syndicated humor column and blog, “Lost in Suburbia,” which is carried by more than 400 newspapers in 25 states and on 250 websites to approximately 10 million readers. She’s also the author of Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir and  Rebel Without a Minivan: Observations on Life in the ‘Burbs. She has served on the faculty of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Scary men different from scary women

(Reposted by permission of author Gina Barreca. This piece originally appeared in the Hartford Courant on Oct. 17, 2013.)

With Halloween trying to sneak up on us, it’s time to look without fear at the differences between what makes men scary and what makes women scary.

For example, your male villain in a horror movie must have third-degree peeling burns and open sores over most of his body; that’s a given. It’s a plus if he’s wearing gloves with knives on the fingertips, like Freddy Krueger from “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” If he has bad breath and a low credit score, even better.

Or else he can choose the ever popular wearing of his victims’ skin over his own, as do those curiously bespoke tailors from either “The Silence of the Lambs” or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

And if a screen villain really wants to make a lasting impression and seriously embrace a truly effective horribleness, he can have nails driven into his skull like the central figure from “Hellraiser.” He’s made piercing into a whole new kind of art form.

OK, so now let’s compare this to what female characters must do to be wildly frightening to the average male viewer.

In contrast to oozing sores, flayed bodies and nails in the skull, what did Charlize Theron need to do to play a so memorably, mortally gruesome a villainess and murderess that she won an Oscar for the role?

What Theron needed to do in “Monster” was gain a little weight and not do her hair properly.

What had men pants-wettingly terrified about the film was not that Theron played one of the few serial killers who systematically murdered male victims: It was, instead, that dazzlingly gorgeous Charlize Theron could look bad simply by installing prosthetic teeth and doing weird stuff with her eyebrows.

Female characters, you see, don’t have to be preternaturally disfigured or animal-alien-human-hybrids; all they need to do is smear their eye makeup and get lipstick on their teeth.

Actually, they don’t even need to do that: they need to cry, yell and make a scene.

At this moment in our culture, it’s not Carrie from Stephen Kingwho scares, but Carrie from “Homeland.”

CIA operative (retired) Carrie from “Homeland” is creepier because she’s way more out of control than Carrie-the-pig-blood-prom-queen. “Homeland’s” Carrie has fallen from a more powerful position and she has access to the secrets, not of high schoolers, but of nations. Frankly, the last thing she is worried about is getting her period.

And while we’re speaking of Stephen King, it’s not Kathy Bates from “Misery” who really made the men of America flee in fear from multiplexes; it’s Kathy Bates from “About Schmidt” who did that.

All Kathy Bates had to do in “About Schmidt” was get into the hot tub naked. All she had to do was reveal a bouncy woman’s body.

Hobbling James Caan with an axe when acting as his nurse in “Misery” apparently absolutely pales in comparison to her lack of shame in “About Schmidt,” even though, as many of us recall, Jack Nicholson himself was not exactly a body double for, say, Alexander Skarsgard.

It’s tricky for a female character to play a horror-queen role on the screen because, as one of my male friends put it, the phrase “scary woman is redundant.” Our super villains, like our superheroes, remain a masculine prototype of a very certain type: they are unmarried and tend not to have deeply complex dating lives even when they are given complicated emotional back stories.

Sure, Superman had “issues” concerning his family of origin, but Lois Lane was never much more than a nag in his life. Batman had to deal with loss and grief, but Catwoman was basically on a quest for a litter box of one’s own.

How about Wonder Woman? One look and you knew exactly what everybody was wondering: “Are they real?”

So in celebration of the season, here are movies so chilling to everyman that they will send your guy into a panic the moment you hit “play”:

1. “Titanic”

2. “The First Wives Club”

3. “Little Women”

4. Precious

5. “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”

6. “A Walk to Remember”

7. “Notting Hill”

8. “27 Dresses”

9. “Thelma and Louise”

10. Tie: Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre — any adaptation, any director, any time period.

— Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She regularly writes columns for the Hartford Courant, The Huffington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Psychology Today. In 2012, she served as a keynoter at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Learn more about Gina here.

Confessions of a Netflix addict

I have a confession to make.

I am a serial TV addict — I am addicted to watching the serials on my Netflix TV.

How did this become a problem?  How did I decide this was even a problem at all? I mean why all the self-judgment? Why am I coming down so hard on myself about my love of watching TV series after series? Plenty of my friends do it. Mykids do it. Can’t I think of it as just fun, a passion, a simple pleasure, a ritual my husband and I share before bedtime? How come I can’t just leave it at that?

Well, I am writing this confession at 6:30 a.m. after very little sleep. Last night I snuck in two extra episodes of Breaking Bad as my husband snored. We were watching the first episode of season two together at 11p.m., in bed, on the laptop, and he fell asleep. I kept going, I couldn’t stop watching — it was 1:30 a.m. before I passed out and slid my laptop gently to the floor. And, when I awoke, he was still sleeping as I grabbed my laptop and headed down to the kitchen for another dose, another episode.

All this time I thought this was a simple pleasure. The first time we learned how to download a TV series was five years ago. We were on vacation with our kids and they turned us onto Hulu and Amazon Prime and live streaming. We were thrilled that we could bring our laptop into bed and watch a movie or a TV series while cozily tucked in together. We became instantly technologically proficient and proud of it. A ritual was born.

Watching season after season of Grey’s Anatomy on vacation, in bed, with my man, was romantic and fun.

Even though we had missed entire seasons of great TV shows — no worries — we had moved beyond DVR’ing shows, we were now live streamers!   As long as we had Internet access, we were golden. We had our entertainment at our fingertips. Very rarely were we without access and as long as the supply of new series was available, we were good.

Things started to change last year with Homeland and got dramatically worse with House of CardsBreaking Bad has been the tipping point downward when Walter White (Brian Cranston), his meth cooking addiction and his moneymaking addiction have become my watching addiction.

Thankfully, my husband and I didn’t know about Homeland until season two. We love learning about great shows late in the game because then there is no waiting for the next episode. Boom — live stream it — Yes! Watching episode after episode late into the night made us both too adrenalized for sleep so — Bang — just one more episode before lights out. My husband and I marathoned it into the wee hours until the season’s end.  Content, exhausted and full of speculative chatter about what would be next, we hungrily looked for another show.

And this was pivotal — we were visiting my partner at betterafter50.com and her husband at their vacation condo in New Hampshire. Lovely day of cross country skiing, dinner and wine when they started talking about this amazing show they had watched on Netflix — House of Cards.  They happily re-watched the first episode with us and went to bed.

We, however, did not go to bed; we lay on their couch for two more episodes and finally dragged ourselves to sleep at 2 a.m. The next morning as they were packing up to leave (they were heading back early to Boston), we asked them if they would mind if we hung out a little longer and closed up after ourselves. No problem. So, we made ourselves a little breakfast and hunkered down back on the couch. We watched a few more episodes, went out to take a walk and went back to the couch. Around early evening, we called them and asked if they minded if we slept there one more night (we weren’t done watching). They understood. Really! We actually invited ourselves into our friends’ home, onto their couch because we couldn’t pull ourselves away from House of Cards until it was too late to drive back. OMG!

And now Breaking Bad’s meth-addicted theme has become my addiction reality.

This beloved recreational passion, this hobby, this lovely pleasure has developed into a real problem. I had no idea that this simple pleasure would interfere with my day-to-day functioning but in fact, its tentacles have woven their way into my ability to get my work done and have affected my sleep. My relationship with my husband has shifted because this activity has now become my number one bedfellow. The time I spend in this activity has overtaken my ability to do the other things I so love in my life like reading, getting out of the house early for walks and early-morning writing.

My confession is now complete. I am aware of the problem; however, I am not ready to change my behavior. But, I am admittedly a tad concerned that once I run through every episode of Breaking Bad, what’s next?  Got some ideas?

P.S. If you’re looking to tuck in and hunker down with some great shows to watch, here are a few of my favorites. But try to pace yourselves!

HOUSE OF CARDS

WEEDS

MAD MEN

GREY’S ANATOMY

GLEE

TWILIGHT

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

BREAKING BAD

— Felice Shapiro

Felice Shapiro is a writer, entrepreneur and publisher. In November 2011, she founded Betterafter50.com (BA50), an online platform with a readership doubling itself almost every month. Shapiro has published work from hundreds of writers — in all, more than 1,000 articles on topics of health, sex, start-ups, dating, adult children, aging parents, finance and more. She also teaches entrepreneurship at Tufts University.

50 things women over 50 hate about fashion

I’ve had more than my share of fashion faux pas. I’m the one who went to the bathroom before my court appearance and came back and pled the case for my client with my suit skirt tucked up into my panty hose.

At my own engagement party, my future mother-in-law’s friend wore the same dress as I did. When someone recently admired my shoes and asked me whose they were, I  answered, “mine, who else’s would they be?” I often can’t seem to get out of my gym clothes to shower until late afternoon, and now that I own loungewear from Mariwear, I am hard pressed to get dressed at all.

I don’t claim to be a fashion expert — I’m just your typical midlife woman who likes to be comfortable and look somewhat put together — when it matters.  I like what I like, and I know what pisses me off. And so, it seems, do other women over 50.  I asked my contemporaries what they hated about fashion, and boy, did they let loose. Check this out.  Did I miss something?

1. We hate catalogues that have 26-year-old Skinny Minnies modeling clothes geared for the 50 and over woman.  Have you seen the recent Spanx catalogue?

2. We hate low-cut jeans. We do not need to show our plumber’s crack when we sit to eat our frozen yogurt and watch Breaking Bad.

3. We could write a book on underwear — how much we hate it. We hate that we can’t seem to find good, reasonably priced underwear.  We don’t want thongs, we don’t want to be picking at our oversized tuchases. We want to be covering both cheeks, thank you. We don’t want tight elastics so that our fat hangs over, we don’t want Granny panties, we do want something sexy, and we don’t want to pay $32 for a single pair (a la Hanky Panky).

4. We hate that there is no gray hair dye that helps you go from anything to natural gray. WTF?  They can put a man on the moon, but not make a gray hair dye?

5. We hate that unless you are really, really tall, pants always need to be shortened and we have to pay extra for hemming.

6. We hate handbags that are heavy even when nothing is in them.

7. We hate that “they” lie about needing to dry clean everything.

8. We hate heavy earrings that do not come with earlobe supporters and cause our aging earlobes to sag.

9. We hate our friends when they ask us how much a recent purchase cost, as in, “That’s a pretty blouse, how much did you pay for it?”

10. We hate when we show up to a party in the same dress as another lady and they don’t laugh it off — but make a federal case of it.

11. We hate “fat” mirrors and bad lighting that emphasize even the smallest of thigh dimples.

12. We hate trying on skinny jeans in small dressing rooms — attempting to get the jeans over the muffin top while simultaneously having a hot flash.

13. We hate that there is no such thing as size any more.

14. We hate that there is no such thing as customer service any more.

15. We hate that we can never please our moms, no matter what we are wearing.

16. We hate that we are never happy with what our daughters are wearing.

17. We hate that fashion seems like it is only for tall, skinny women.

18. We hate that high fashion is often not comfortable or wearable.

19. We hate that fashion is too focused on youthful body types and not celebrating our beautiful, aging, fit bodies.

20. We hate bra shopping. We always have.

21. We hate sleeveless dresses — don’t they know we care about our “bat wings?”22. We hate “See Through” purses (actually, we hate “see through” anything.)

23. We hate harem pants.

24. We hate neon anything.

25. We hate cheap fabrics (especially with expensive price tags.)

26. We hate anything that could be worn by a stripper (see #27 below)

27. We hate thigh-high boots.

28. We hate that the “new” fad is almost exactly the same as the clothes we had been saving for the past 10 years, hoping they would come back into style — except the “new” look is just different enough to make you look like you’re wearing 10-year-old clothes.

29. We hate really old ladies in ultra-high heels who look like they are about to fall and break a hip.

30. We hate that fashion is a luxury for the 1%.

31. We hate that hammer pants will never come back into vogue.  NB: I hate that I had no idea what hammer pants were until I looked them up on the Web (and I agree with #23, now that I’ve looked.)

32. We hate swimwear designers who don’t get that if they are selling a “D” cup top (hard enough to find), that it does not need padding, but it does require support.  We hate that we have to go up an extra size when buying swimwear.

33. We hate camisoles with “built in” bras that have no support and don’t fit anyone with a bigger breast than a size B.

34. We hate that you can’t find a Diane von Furstenberg dress at Bendels in New York City that’s over a size 10. Do they not know that the average woman is a size 12 or 14?

35. We hate that it is really difficult to find a dress that hides our midlife knees.

36. We hate that we are always at war with mother nature, trying to cover what is happening to our bodies naturally.

37. We hate that we can never keep up — we always seem to be about two years behind the latest fashion trend.

38. We hate when we find clothes in our closets with the tags still intact.

39. We hate group dressing rooms. We hate them a lot. We hate them with a passion.

40. We hate “friends” who tell you that you look fantastic when you know very well you have gained 10 pounds, haven’t done your hair, and you have no makeup on.

41. We hate those stupid little belts and ribbons they include with dresses.

42. We hate those tight skirts that almost no one over 50 can wear.

43. We hate shoes with the bondage look.

44. We hate ballet slipper shoes with stupid little bows on top.

45. We hate dresses that are tight around the hips and sag at the boobs.

46. We hate (and love) all the absolutely, really beautiful shoes that give no consideration to comfort.

47. We hate that “they” seem to be skimping on fabric.

48. We hate yoga pants that show your camel toe.

49. We hate lipstick on our teeth.

50. We hate that no matter how many clothes hang in our closet, we seem to have nothing to wear.  And that has been true for decades.

— Ronna Benjamin

About the time Ronna Benjamin turned 50, she had an epiphany. After 28 years , she realized she couldn’t stand being a real estate attorney for even one more minute (can you imagine?). She jumped into the world of writing as her “encore” career and never looked back. Ronna teamed up with Better After 50 founder Felice Shapiro, and soon became a partner, managing editor and weekly humor columnist for BA50. She writes about the things BA50s are concerned about: adult children, aging parents, illness, anxiety and insomnia, to name a few.  She is a native Bostonian and loves to spend time with her wonderful husband and three adult children. She also loves to cook, sail, ski, run and bike, and she is always on the look out for the next great diet.

Manliness to Manilow

JFrom Manliness to Manilowoel Schwartzberg’s second book, Small Things Considered: Moments From Manliness to Manilow, is now available from Wyatt-McKenzie Publishing. An award-winning humorist, essayist and screenwriter, Schwartzberg has published work in NewsweekThe New York Times MagazineNew Jersey Monthly, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, The Star Ledger, Babble.com and “in the flimsy pages” of regional parenting magazines around the country. In 2009, he published his first book, The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad.

It’s the life in your years that count

Groucho Marx quipped, “A man is only as old as the woman he feels.” I suspect this is why my older brother married a woman 16 years his junior. I still haven’t made up my mind on whether I should admire or resent him for that. There are simply days when I would like to feel a bit younger.

I thought about this matter a week ago while getting a haircut.  I have an unspoken agreement with the stylist who cuts my hair: the day my hair thins out enough to consider a comb-over, she’ll shave my head bald to spare me the embarrassment.

It was there that I also learned that I’d missed another benchmark of growing old: the eyebrow trim.  Seriously, at 45 years of age, I got an eyebrow trim. I didn’t ask for it, didn’t consider it, but I guess I needed it.  And suddenly I felt my old rocking chair call to me like the morning’s first cup of coffee.

As a younger man, I recall seeing the “old guys” who desperately needed eyebrow trims. I thought of myself having the wit of Groucho Marx as my years advanced but certainly not his bushy eyebrows.  I’d come to accept that running 20 miles a week no longer kept my waistline in check, but having hair growth move from my scalp to destinations it had never been before was not on my bucket-list.

It’s not just the hair migration that serves as a yardstick of aging, but also visits to the doctor.  A 50-year-old coworker of mine tells the story of going to the doctor for a terrible head cold. The doctor insisted on a blood work-up, and he conceded.  But when the doctor also recommended a colonoscopy, the line was drawn. Apparently when you get to a certain age, a head cold also means a butt cold in the medical community.  Doctors give out colonoscopies to 50-year-olds the way drive-through bank tellers distribute candy to children.

Even the unassuming checkout stands of the local grocery are subject to the laws of aging. My brother Jeff went to the store to buy a few groceries for his family.  Nothing much, just enough to keep within the Express Lane limit.  After the young man at the register rang him up, he gave my brother the total amount due and then added, “And I applied your senior discount, sir.”  Jeff was about to protest when he suddenly caught himself and asked, “How much is that discount, son?”  Upon learning the amount, he kept his protest to himself.  “Five bucks is five bucks,” he concluded.   It would seem that, the older we get, the more we do become our fathers.

Similarly, a lifelong friend of the family tells the story of his amusement in getting an AARP application in the mail the week before he turned 50. His wife gave him a good ribbing for that. But she found it far less amusing when she received her application in the mail when she turned 40. He enjoyed a good laugh over it until she gave him that “look.” Women, it seems, don’t acknowledge their age, and we men make it a point to never act ours.

My brother Mike, who turned 50 last year, is clearly doing his best to stay young in appearance. He claims his success is attributed to exercise, weight lifting and eating loads of fiber. He went into great detail about his regimental diet of oat bran, flax seed, omega-3 fatty acids, yogurt and bacterial cultures, and the resulting low cholesterol.  It’s quite possible he’s going to live to be 100… but, under those circumstances, who would really want to?

And on that note, I’m going out to the backyard for a cigar.  There are those like my brother Mike who would certainly frown on such behavior, but I’m a believer that it’s the life in your years that count, not the reverse.  And though I seem destined to wind up with the eyebrows of Groucho Marx, I’m thinking that I just may live as long — but more importantly as full a life — as George Burns.

— Doug Clough

Doug Clough writes a column for the Ida County Courier in Ida Grove, Iowa, called “From our backyard…”  His work has appeared in Farm News, The Iowan and Boating World, and he served as a travel scout for Midwest Living. “I am a father of a salad bowl family (aka ‘blended’), a customer service manager, the possession of my Labradoodle and — in a former life — an English teacher. Someone has to enjoy that mix; it may as well be me,” he says.

Indiscretion

Okay, it was me.  No one usually wants to admit it, and Lord knows I really shouldn’t be writing about this here but I promised to testify about things not easily shared.

I was in the subway station the other day about an hour after I had consumed a bowl of chili.  The beans in the broth were not quite cooked and I wound up tossing about half of them out.  Not enough time it seems to allay the damage.

Yes, I was having problems with gas.

Walking into the subway station I found myself unable to control the blast that was churning away and thought I’d let it escape delicately.

There was nothing delicate about it.

I realized this as soon as I felt the burning sensation.  Others realized it within seconds.  Two older women got the brunt of my indiscretion. Their eyes teared and hands immediately went to their nose and mouth.

“Agghh,” one woman exclaimed, “that is disgusting.”

As most women will do, her companion immediately piped up, “Well, it wasn’t me.”

No one was accusing her. Least of all myself.

Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for others in the station, the blast expanded so the culprit couldn’t easily be found.  The station took on a thick air, which I was comfortable with but surely no one else was.  The two women went around and around about the person who could have done such a thing. Suffice it to say that they thought this was a deliberate act of terrorism (and under other circumstances I might have agreed).

I did find it interesting that one woman kept defending herself (it wasn’t me), even though her friend had not accused her of anything.  I find women, more times than not, take on the scapegoat role even if they haven’t been charged outright. “I’m sorry.” “Don’t think I did that.” “It wasn’t me.”

No, it wasn’t you — it was me.  I could have announced my indiscretion and asked for your forgiveness, but I didn’t think I’d make it out of there alive.  Even with the explanation of the chili, I really don’t think people were willing to listen.  They were having a hard enough time breathing.

So what can I tell you?

I’m sorry.  I haven’t eaten a bowl of chili since and was just grateful I wasn’t in one of the packed cars on the subway, but had the roominess of the station.  You see — there are things to be grateful for if you just look at them the right way!  And to the two ladies who were behind me?  I’m dreadfully sorry.  I’ll pay for any dry cleaning bills or wrinkle cream you had to buy as a result of my indiscretion.

Now that the air has been cleared, let’s move on.

— Lisa Rehfuss

Lisa Rehfuss is publisher/writer of www.howlpress.com and www.mollyandbuttercup.com. Contact her anywhere, anytime. As a writer, she will write back.

Reflections of Erma