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I’m going where? (or ambivalent ambition…)

Maggie MillusWhen I was a teenager, I thought I wanted to be a biochemist.

I saw myself running around a lab in a white lab coat. I loved test tubes and mixing chemicals. But no one ever gave me a chemistry set. There was always that KABOOM! factor. So I made up for it. I mixed and burned household chemicals. Everywhere. The kitchen. The garage. The porch. Every chance I could. I guess I was subconsciously looking for that missing KABLOOEY! and a mushroom cloud.

My mother wanted a doctor in the family. She saw the white lab coat, too, but added a stethoscope. Test tubes, flasks and volatiles meant nothing to her. It was easy to disappoint her.

I considered being a veterinarian, but the dog had other ideas. I readjusted my goal to animal groomer. I trimmed the dog. There were chunks of fur everywhere. She looked like a bumfuzzled monkey with a buzz cut. Every time I approached her with scissors, her panicked brain told her to flee. And she did. She didn’t come out from under the bed for three days.

My grades were good, but they weren’t going to get me into MIT or Harvard. Why bother when you can’t afford it? I took all kinds of aptitude and standardized tests. I went to the school guidance counselors to find out what I didn’t know I wanted to do, but that got me nowhere.

I couldn’t see myself as an office manager, a secretary or any kind of office worker. I had no coffee-making skills. I hated water coolers. And I couldn’t type. I just couldn’t see myself in business, although I did like to give people the business.

My high school homeroom teacher thought I should put an end to all of this and just pick something, anything.  But nothing special, because I was a girl. He avoided this sexist label when he said, “Maggie, you’re good, but not that good.” I guess that was because I was worth only 77 cents on the dollar. So off to a state university I went. It certainly wasn’t any of those big-name, very expensive Ivy League schools.

When I was a college freshman, I majored in engineering. I was confused. I thought life’s problems could be solved with an equation or algorithm. I was on my way to class one day and as usual, I was late. As I approached the engineering building, a grounds custodian stabbed a piece of paper with his pointy trash picker upper and said, “Do youuu know where you are going?”

My first reaction was to huff and puff. I was running uphill. No easy feat on a hot, humid, Gainesville day. I stopped dead in my tracks. What the hell does he mean? Does he think I’m lost? Is his question a philosophical one — is he asking if I know where I am going in my life?

Then I looked him straight in the eye and replied, “Hey! You ought to get that thing a turbo charger!” He looked at me, puzzled. He had no idea what I was talking about. I said,” You know, for your pointy trash picker upper!”

He said again, “Do youuu know where you are going?”

How would I know? I was just a freshman. Did it really matter? I just kept going.

And I’m still going. With no special destination except for the usual one, six feet below and pushing daisies.

To quote Lewis Carroll: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

— Maggie Millus

A published writer of several science textbooks, Maggie Millus writes humor and blogs at Barmy Bottom Hollow “Me? Issues? I don’t have any issues, but a lot of other people sure do!” When she’s not writing about neighbors, her husband, her mother, her daughter or her nocturnal, insomniac dog, she muddles  through the sweaty crankiness and  eccentricities of  life in the South  Florida heat and humidity.

Why don’t you speak American?

Gianetta PalmerThis doesn’t really have anything to do with Sarah Palin. I’m glad she’s still up north keeping an eye on the Russians, and I’m happy that she checks in periodically just to make sure that we know that she still hasn’t made the team.

She and Tim Tebow (whom I like very much) are pretty much the same: as hard as they try, they aren’t good enough to be the leader of the third string (according to some people) or even worse, actually make the third-string team. Ouch.

It’s been fun watching Donald Trump and his disciples irritate about 60 percent of the registered voters across the country while the brain surgeon just looks around and wonders, “Where do they find these idiots?” At least if Palin was thrown into the mix, it would give us something else to look at other than the pinched expression on Ted Cruz’s face or the ferret that crowns the Donald’s head and tries to keep his ego in check.

I discovered after doing a two-second Google search that Trump has the same answer for any possible question that he could be asked. Himself.

1. How will you fix the immigration problem? Donald Trump can fix anything.

2. How will you bring back the economy? Donald Trump will sell off everything.

3. How will you defeat ISIS? Donald Trump can defeat anyone.

4. How will you beat the other Republicans? Donald Trump will give everyone a cabinet position.

5. How will you defeat the Democrats? Donald Trump can buy anyone, and the Donald is really like most of them.

See what I mean? I think I’ve heard those answers before, but the ferret must be working because he hardly ever uses his name in the third person anymore.

I think that’s because he, like a lot of other Americans, have spoken proper American for so long that it actually now makes sense.

And that’s my problem, too: I speak proper American, and it has done nothing lately but get me into trouble.

Proper American is not the same as proper English. I use too much slang in my everyday vocabulary and after years of too many “had beens,” “fixin’ to’s” and “ain’t gonna’s,” my language (or lack thereof) has spilled over into my writing and is causing me and the people (Niamh!) (Gina!) around me needless amounts of headaches.

I think I can do better, but honestly I think I need a complete overhaul. I need to strip everything apart and start with the basic person, place or thing.

I’ve been advised to read several different books and that’s what I’m going to do. My pal, Gina Barreca, says that writing is serious business and until you treat it as such, you’re just wasting everybody’s time, including your own and that’s doing a disservice to everyone.

I was going to use the combination of improper words listed above in one last dramatic incorrect sentence, but my new habits are already beginning to take over.

Almost.

Just wait ’til all y’all get a looky-loo at my new book. Gianetta says it might just be the best thing she’s ever written…

— Gianetta Palmer

Gianetta Palmer lives in the North Georgia Mountains and is the author of Reflections On A Middle-Aged Fat Woman and Scrunchie-Fried. She recently finished her first novel and blogs regularly on her popular website. Visit her at www.middleagedfatwoman.com. Or on Twitter @mafatwoman.

 

Literal-minded women and the men who love them

Con ChapmanThere was, above all the others, Nora. Because of our shared history of kidding around, I could make her break up across a conference room just simply by lifting an eyebrow at the right moment in a boring business meeting.

Robin was a pitch-perfect parody of a Southern belle, slyer than me by a photo-finish. We’d batter each other with witticisms like two club fighters, then collapse after the final round, exhausted.

Next was Nina — the improbably big-boobed ballerina with the Hungarian intellectual DNA. She’d talk my mouth dry as we bantered back and forth.

But these are all, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, a feminine wit who was second to none, The Women I’m Not Married To. My wife is a Presbyterian — you will search in vain at your local library for The Big Book of Presbyterian Humor, and not because it’s checked out. There isn’t one, and probably there never will be.

There is something about a man who can’t keep himself from kidding around that is attracted, then repelled — like those black-and-white Scottie dog magnets — by his wise-cracking female soulmate.

You may recall the “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry meets Janeane Garofalo and becomes infatuated because she seems his distaff carbon copy. The two break up when they realize they could never live together — it would be like sharing an apartment with your doppelganger.

Evidence of this strange plus/minus polarity dates at least from the 19th century. In the 1860s Mark Twain met two cousins, Harriet Lewis Paff and Olivia Lewis Langdon. Paff got the point of Clemens’ every joke, high or low, but Olivia could not “see anything to laugh at in the wittiest sayings” unless Harriet explained them in detail. Harriet finally gave up after realizing that her “quickness at seeing the point of a joke and the witty sayings that I had considered almost irresistible were simply nothing in comparison to my cousin’s gifts. Mr. C evidently preferred her sense to my nonsense.”

Dave Barry, one of the few American males who actually makes a living writing humor, sometimes injects his wife into one of his pieces. It is clear when he does so that she’s not amused by him.

Dorothy Parker, a bespectacled bookworm, is evidence of a corollary of the rule I’m postulating. A woman with a wisecrack for every occasion, she was unlucky in love, and was the author of numerous aphorisms that expressed the mordant view of romance she developed as a result, including her most famous, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

Perhaps it’s the search for the toughest audience in the world, the way Sir Edmund Hillary wouldn’t be satisfied until he climbed Mt. Everest, just because it was the highest mountain in the world, that makes men seek out women who give them a blank stare after they’ve delivered the punch line of their favorite knee-slapper, the one about the priest, the rabbi and the lady snake-charmer who walk into a bar.

All I can say is, to the fraternity of males I’m talking about, of which I consider myself a member in good standing, there are four words that act like Spanish Fly, a verbal aphrodisiac on us. Try them next time you find yourself seated next to the life of the dinner party, the guy who’s cracking one joke after another, keeping everybody in stitches:

“I don’t get it.”

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

The Harry-Potter-like powers of parents

Lisa BeachI didn’t notice my husband’s magical powers right away.

It began on a typical Saturday morning, with Kevin downstairs watching a soccer game he’d recorded the night before. In the next room — and this is key — the boys eat breakfast while discussing their “who-gets-to-play-videogames-first” strategy.

Having just showered, I’m upstairs getting ready to blow-dry my hair. The moment I turn the hairdryer on, my younger son (“P”) pops his head in the bathroom.

“Mom?”

Hairdryer off.

“What’s up, P?” I ask.

“Can I play video games? I did all my chores,” he explains.

“Sure.”

P bolts downstairs to turn on the PS4.

Hairdryer on. Three seconds go by.

“Mom!”

Hairdryer off.

“What’s up, T?” I ask, already knowing where this conversation is headed.

“No fair!” he whines. “Why does P get to play video games first? I did all my chores, too.”

“Because he asked me first, I guess. Why didn’t you just ask Dad? He’s downstairs watching the soccer game.”

T replies, “Oh, I didn’t see him.”

Didn’t see him, he says.

Didn’t notice the TV blaring in the room right next to the kitchen where T just came from.

Didn’t hear Kevin yelling, “He was OFFSIDES!”

And that’s when it struck me — Kevin was wearing his invisibility cloak.

All those times, thousands upon thousands of times, when the boys came to me for help or permission or protection (from each other), they sought me out — even though Kevin was within arm’s reach. Why? They simple didn’t see Kevin.

The invisibility cloak masked Kevin like Harry Potter trying to escape the clutches of Voldemort. It veiled him from the always-needing-me Muggles so they’d walk right past him in search of me.

It all became so clear now. The verbal battles I refereed, the split-decision judgments I rendered, the permission-granting wishes I delivered like anticipated birthday gifts. All these petitions from my kids occurred — not because I was their favorite parent, as I had begun to believe — but because of Kevin’s covert presence in the house. I had been duped by Dad’s magic.

Wait a minute…those times when Kevin claimed he “didn’t see” the laundry basket at the bottom of the stairs waiting to be carried up, the garbage bag waiting to be taken outside or the cat vomit waiting to be cleaned up, it wasn’t the ol’ invisibility cloak trick, was it?

Damn, Kevin even used his magic on me. He’s good.

— Lisa Beach

Lisa Beach is a recovering stay-at-home mom and homeschooler who lived to write about it. Her blog, Tweenior Moments, offers relatable insights about middle-aging like a fine wine: down-to-earthy and complex, medium-bodied, with a hint of sarcasm and a smooth-but-wrinkled finish. She lives in Florida with her husband, two teen boys and one really fat cat. She’s a blogger and humor writer about middle age, parenting, family life and all the baggage that goes with it.

Conjunction junction
What’s your wardrobe malfunction?

Alas, this entry has no actual association with “conjunctions” — I just liked the rhyme.

It does, however, have everything to do with a wardrobe malfunction of the highest Janet Jackson-like order.

Darla RakoczySociety agrees that clothes look better on women with breasts that are above the belly button and roughly the same size. Gravity and nursing babies had worked their mammary magic (dark magic) and where once there were breasts, now there were just two parcels of skin sagging so low they must be trying to communicate with the ground.

Since my girls hadn’t looked up in a long while, I finally broke down and bought some of the wonder inserts that bra shops had been attempting to sell me for a decade.

“So simple,” they proclaimed!

“They fit easily in your bra, and you can adjust them however you want,” they promised.

“You can wear them with a bathing suit,” they purported.

That last proclamation I was especially dubious about. I never attempted that.

I had enough problems wearing them with clothes.

When we lived in Japan, some of my male friends and I occasionally played racquetball together. One cold winter day, after playing a particularly grueling point, I was adjusting my goggles when I noticed the guys all gathered around an object on the floor.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one of the men bending down to pick something up from the floor. All of a sudden, I realized what it was.

My wonder insert and any self-esteem I might have possessed had somehow popped out of my sports bra onto the racquetball court floor.

I had a few choices.

I could do the frantic “NOOOOOOOOOOOO” lunge across the court and snatch it from his hand.

I could channel an Oscar-worthy performance by asking, “What in the hell is that?”

I could grab it and ask, “Do we need to baste this?”

Seriously, they look just like chicken breasts.

I could run out of the room, mortified (this wouldn’t require any acting), never speak of the situation again, and put down my racquet forever.

Or I could choose the most awkward possibility of all, and walk up to my friend, grab it from his hand, and mumble, “I think that’s mine.”  I went this route and would like to report that I spoke it in a confident, breezy manner, but I am fairly certain my voice cracked and that I was looking at my feet.

The three men looked befuddled. An interminably awkward silence followed during which we all stared at the floor, while I tried to problem solve what to do with the offending item burning a hole in my hand and my soul. There was no place for belongings on the court, which meant that a walk of shame would be required to get to my bag.

My options were limited. I could turn my back on them and attempt to rehouse the fowl-like accessory. I could attempt to jam it in my sock until the game was over.

Thankfully at that moment, epiphany struck. I had pockets! I was going for “casual” as I shoved the boobie wad in my pocket. I fear though that my frantic jerky motions screamed “panic.”

The game continued without any further incident. The story lives on, retold every time my girlfriends and I get together, in that oral tradition that has existed for centuries where only the profound tales (or most mortifying) survive.

— Darla Rakoczy

Darla Rakoczy is the mom of two almost-grown humans, an Air Force wife, speech pathologist, avid reader and gypsy who chronicles her adventures in a weekly blog, Glamizon Life in the Desert.

Crack me up, Buttercup!

Cynthia SchulzRaising a child with disabilities has its moments — of hilarity. Our family roars at the recollection of infamous Noni Baloney moments, brought to you by our daughter with special needs, Noni.

Like the time we walked into Uncle Melvin’s wake to greet the family. In this hushed, sacred space for all to hear, Noni broadcasts, “Megan, you’ve got a booger on your nose!”

Cousin Megan, mortified and trying to shush her, softly explains she is wearing a nose ring.

Noni, whose “inside voice” is still a work in progress, will not be shushed. Fully confident that she knows a booger when she sees one, she turns up the volume of her voice. “No, no, no, you’ve got a booger on your nose, right there,” she points, touching her finger to Megan’s nose.

A contingent of cousins loses control, and laughter gets the best of the mourners.

Uncle Mel would be howling.

In high school, during regular Monday morning conversation about What I Did Over the Weekend, Noni announces to her class, “I started my period.” After a quick reminder about not sharing personal information, her teacher redirects her by asking what else happened. Noni answers, “Jacy (little sister) started hers, too.”

The girl is a free spirit. So proud of herself after successfully undressing one night before putting on her pajamas, she appeared naked in her teenaged brother’s bedroom, beaming and exclaiming, “Look at me! I did it all my myself!”

Her dad’s favorite antic is handing his little buttercup the phone when a telemarketer calls.

Noni (who can’t pronounce her L’s): “Ha-woh!”

Caller: Asks about consolidating debt, opening a checking account, participating in a survey or voting for a political candidate. Sound familiar?

Noni: Louder, “Ha-woh! I don’t know.”

Caller: Repeats the question.

Noni: Shouting now with gusto, “Ha-woh! I don’t know!” Followed by, “Hey, he hung up on me!”

Works every time.

— Cindy Schulz

Cindy Schulz, communications exec and author of the blog Baloney Macaroni, writes and speaks about living a wonderful life with special needs — and not taking no for an answer. She’s raised four young-adult children, including one with disabilities.

The appliance whisperer

Jerry ZezimaInanimate objects are out to get me. I can deal with human beings, either by ignoring them or by telling them such dumb jokes that they ignore me. But machines have me baffled.

That goes especially for the appliances in my house, which have conspired to drive me even crazier than I already am.

Fortunately, a fellow human, Leo Kasden, aka the Appliance Whisperer, has come to the rescue.

Leo, 83, ace salesman at the P.C. Richard & Son store in Stony Brook, N.Y., sold both an air conditioner and a washing machine to me and my wife, Sue, last year. Earlier this year, he sold us a dryer.

This was necessitated by the sad and expensive fact that all three of the old appliances conked out within months of each other. And recently, Sue and I have been the victims of more appliance mayhem.

In the span of about two weeks, we had trouble with the microwave, the toaster and the coffee maker, none of which Leo sold us, though he did have some words of wisdom about these and all other appliances: “You have to talk to them,” he said. “Maybe they’re misbehaving because they think you don’t like them.”

Leo loves appliances. He has been selling them for 60 years, the past 40 at P.C. Richard, an East Coast chain founded in 1909.

“I can’t wait to come to work every day,” Leo told me.

“Aren’t you going to retire?” I asked.

“I’ll retire when the Jets win the Super Bowl,” Leo said of his favorite football team.

“You may be working forever,” I remarked.

Leo nodded and said, “That’s OK. I love my job. It’s challenging because you have to be like a doctor and keep up with the latest technology. When I started, there were ice boxes and black-and-white TVs. Now you have washers and dryers that look like they came out of ‘Star Trek.’ The ones you and your wife bought are like that.”

“They even play a little tune when the wash is done,” I said. “It was catchy at first, but now I can’t get that stupid song out of my head. I’m sure it’s part of the appliance conspiracy against me.”

“It’s like in the James Patterson book ‘Zoo,’ with the rebellion of the animals,” Leo said. “This could be the rebellion of the appliances.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” I said, telling Leo about the mind games the microwave played on me. “I was making popcorn when the fan went on and wouldn’t go off. We had to call in a technician, who was totally baffled. The day after he left, the fan went off and the microwave started working again.”

Then there was the toaster.

“We had a brand-new one and it just stopped working,” I recalled. “Maybe it’s because I put in a slice of bread and pressed the ‘bagel’ button, just to be cute. I mean, how would it know?”

“They know when you try to fool them,” said Leo.

“And the coffee maker was so bad that the coffee was lukewarm,” I said. “We had to heat it up in the microwave. When the fan was on, we couldn’t have coffee at all.”

“Not a good way to start the day,” said Leo, adding that his wife, Harriet, to whom he has been married for as long as he has been in sales, operates all the appliances at home. “She cooks and does the laundry. I leave the machines alone.”

“Maybe I should do the same thing,” I said. “I used to do the laundry, but my wife won’t let me now that we have a new washer and dryer. She’s afraid I’ll break them.”

“If you check out your appliances every morning and say hello to them, that might help,” Leo suggested. “Maybe they’ll like you better.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

People said I was crazy,
that it would never work

Laura Fahrenthold“Are you kidding me?” my neighbor Tony exclaimed when I told him the idea. “You really think it’ll work?”

“Of course it’ll work!” I told him, citing the following examples of things other naysayers like him said would never work:

A documented Western Union memo written in 1876 that read: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

Decca Recording Company rejecting the Beatles in 1962: “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”

Ken Olson, president, chairman, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation in 1977: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

“I mean If Google can invent a driverless car, I can certainly engage my teenagers in a little organized cleaning action around here,” I said to Tony. “No ifs, ands or buts about it.”

God, I sounded so much like my mother, although she’d add “young lady” to the end of the sentence. That’s when you knew you were in trouble at my house — when you got called “young lady” or when she looked straight at your eyes and said, “There will be no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

It wasn’t like I’d be asking my teenage daughters to run 10 miles barefoot or go to the world’s longest symphony, Victory at Sea, and sit there for 13 hours straight! I just wanted them to avoid the onset of Saturday Morning Post Traumatic Cleaning Disorder by assigning one chore per day instead.

Growing up, I remember that my Mom’s brilliant idea was to have a “job jar” ready to go. My brother, sister and I were forced to choose three slips of paper, lottery style, and do whatever the chores were before leaving the house. Oh, how I hated window washing on Saturdays. Eventually so did my friend Andrea Whittaker when her Mom employed her own job jar. We’re still friends 45 years later, and we still laugh about the job jar.

It certainly comes as no surprise that teenagers don’t like adult logic, especially when it’s written in giant letters on a chalkboard door.chalkboard

“Observez-vous,” I told them. They hate it when I incite little French sayings.

The 14-year-old went into immediate whimpering mode. “Mom! How can I possibly vacuum the downstairs on Mondays when I have school work to do?”

“Honey, it’s about 900 square feet of space,” I said, petting the yellow Dyson. “You can do it in under 15 minutes.”

Her eyeballs went into immediate upward rolling mode as she called out to her sister for backup support.

“Look at this!” she cried, pointing to the door. “Mom thinks she’s going to make us clean everyday and cook a meal once a week.”

The 15-year-old looked at the list as if she’d seen an explosion.

“But, but… I always clean the upstairs bathroom,” came the protest. “Why can’t she do it?”

“No you don’t. I do,” her sister shot back. “Mom, this is so unfair!”

Almost in unison, they asked what I meant by outdoor chores.

I told them to look out the window, deep into the yard, and tell me three things they thought “outdoor chores” could possibly mean. When they couldn’t come up with a single answer, I filled in the blanks for them. Weeding. Cutting the lawn. And shoveling snow.

“Are you serious?” they cried.

I explained that I was. Why pay the kid down the street $25 when we have three capable women right here? Last time I mowed, it took 25 minutes from start to finish. Shoveling snow would be easy, too. The walkway is about six feet long. Weeding? Can you say two very small flower gardens?

I think the news was beginning to sink in.

“Yup,” I smiled brightly. “We will rotate the duties between the three of us. Same with taking the garbage out on Sunday nights.”

The protests lasted around five minutes until there was nothing left to dispute, swap or change.

That’s when I delivered the final blow.

“And if you don’t do it on the day that it’s assigned, you will get grounded over the weekend,” I said, feeling slightly empowered. “I am asking for 15 minutes of your time six days a week. You get Fridays off for good behavior, don’t forget. We are a family unit, which means we are a team, which means we work together for the common good of our company unit, Sir. Any questions?”

Their eyes widened.

“No,” they said.

I’m happy to report only two groundings have occurred, both in the first week, when they skipped walking the dog. I honestly hated to do it, especially when one had to miss a party, but they needed to learn that I meant business. And that dogs need to pee.

That’s one thing I’m learning about parenting — you have to follow through on things in order to get results.

Life at the Fahrenthold-Pittmans is now its own symphony of clean, stress-free responsibility.

No ifs, ands or buts about it.

— Laura Fahrenthold

Laura Fahrenthold is an upcoming author who writes about widowhood and parenting her eyeball rolling teenagers on her hit blog, www.LauraFahrenthold.com.

Reflections of Erma