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10 top phrases from the Wife-to-English Dictionary

Chris DeanWhen it comes to things I’d really rather not do, my powers of avoidance are legendary. So legendary, in fact, that Hubby has not-so-secretly compiled a Wife-To-English Phrase Dictionary. To someone listening in, it may sound like I get a lot done during the week, but to those in the know? Well, not so much.

Hubby’s Top 10 Favorites

• phrase: Today I’m going to get the laundry caught up.
translation: I’ll fall asleep on the couch while watching stuff off Netflix and get nothing done.

• phrase: Tonight I’ll prepare a home-cooked meal to show Hubby how much I appreciate him.
translation: I’ll spend half the day playing on Facebook, forget to thaw anything out and reheat leftovers from last week.

• phrase: Today I’ll clean the spiderwebs out of the corners and clear off my desk.
translation: I’ll fall asleep on the couch while watching stuff off Netflix and get nothing done.

• phrase: We need to simplify and organize our lives.
translation: I’ll pull everything out of its hidey-holes, sort it into “keep” and “donate” piles, sit down to rest and fall asleep watching stuff off Netflix. Then I’ll freak over the mess I’ve created and shove everything back into the closet, cupboard or desk where it came from.

• phrase: I’m gonna get rid of the clothes that don’t fit, so I don’t have to dig to find something to wear.
translation: I’ll pull everything out of the closet, get depressed over all the stuff my butt won’t fit in, eat Pop-Tarts and chips while I distract myself by watching stuff off Netflix. At bedtime, I’ll throw everything back into the top of the closet, so the next time I reach for yoga pants, it’ll avalanche onto my head, causing another round of, “I’m gonna get rid of the clothes that don’t fit…”

• phrase: Today I am gonna get so much writing done!
translation: I’ll fall asleep on the couch while watching stuff off Netflix and get nothing done.

• phrase: Today I’ll shower, do something with my hair besides a ponytail and put on real clothes.
translation: …Just as soon as I finish the next chapter of my book.

• phrase: I’m starting a new diet today.
translation: I’ll starve myself the first day, then when I fail to lose at least five pounds from all my self-denial, I’ll binge eat goat cheese and Triscuits while blubbering through a movie off pay-per-view.

• phrase: I’m going to start exercising today.
translation: I’m gonna trip while walking across a flat surface and pull a muscle/break a toe. By the time I’m done healing, the urge to exercise will have safely passed.

• phrase: I need to start eating healthier.
translation: I’m going to force the entire family to eat tvp (texturized vegetable protein) meat substitutes, salads and steamed veggies for the next month while I secretly binge on Pop-Tarts and chips when no one’s looking.

I’d be annoyed or maybe even a little hurt, if it wasn’t for the fact that this dictionary proves he really DOES listen and knows me better than I admit to knowing myself.

I think tonight I’ll prepare a home-cooked meal to show just how much I appreciate him! Right after I shower, do something with my hair besides a ponytail and put on real clothes.

— Chris Dean

Chris Dean writes at pixie.c.d. (formerly Life Your Way!) where she shares acts of stupidity, life with adult offspring and the occasional useful bit of info on life with chronic illness. She lives in Indiana with her amazingly tolerant Hubby (who swears he doesn’t mind putting up with her), their four adult-kids and the petting zoo of cats, dogs, chickens, Muscovy ducks and geese she’s systematically managed to turn their home and yard into. When not writing, you can find her avoiding laundry on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

My mother, the model

Jerry-Zezima1-219x300This humorous column by Jerry Zezima originally appeared in the Stamford Advocate on Nov. 20, 2014. Reposted by permission. 

My mom’s the very model of the modern modeling mother. And she could soon share a runway with Heidi Klum and other model moms because she (my mother, not Heidi) began her modeling career recently at a fashion show in my hometown of Stamford, Conn.

Heidi, who’s 41, has gotten a lot more exposure, mainly because she’s not shy about wearing lingerie in public. Besides, she began her career as a teenager.

My mom, who’s a bit more modest, just turned 90.

Because 90 is the new 60, which happens to be my age, my mother was asked to take part in a fashion show at Chico’s, a women’s clothing chain with a store in the Stamford Town Center mall.

“I must have good genes,” my mother said.

“Did you wear jeans?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “I had on a pair of boysenberry slacks.”

“What about a top?” I inquired.

“I was wearing one,” my mother assured me. “In fact, I wore a couple of tops.”

“At the same time?” I wondered.

My mother sighed, because she knows I have a fashion plate in my head, and explained that first she wore a print blouse and then changed into another top with a coordinating jacket.

I was going to ask if she also wore the diamond-studded, $10-million bra that Heidi Klum famously sported on the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalog, but I thought better of it because Chico’s doesn’t sell stuff like that and this was, after all, my mother.

“But you could,” I suggested, “be in the Chico’s catalog.”

“Yes, she could,” said store manager Terry Mrijaj, whose name is pronounced “Terry.”

“Do you know that my mother is 90?” I asked when I called to talk about the new supermodel.

“She’s amazing,” Terry stated. “She’s stylish, elegant and beautiful. Whenever she comes in, customers remark on how great she looks in our clothes. She’s a walking advertisement for the store.”

Not bad considering my mom couldn’t walk a year and a half ago, when she fell and broke her leg. But she has bounced back — she didn’t bounce when she fell — and is driving again. And now, she’s modeling.

“She’s a natural,” said Terry, adding that the fashion show, a breast cancer fundraiser, featured seven models, the youngest of whom is in her teens. My mom, not surprisingly, is the oldest.

Terry knows from experience because she was runner-up in the Miss Teen New York pageant when she was 18. “I’m 45 now, so I’m half your mom’s age,” she said. “I hope I look that good when I’m 90.”

My mother said that when she was 16 or 17, she was asked to model a sable coat at Levine & Smith, a fur shop in New York City.

“My father was so insulted — he didn’t think modeling was very reputable — that he refused to let me do it and we never went back,” my mother remembered. “So I went into nursing.”

“Those white uniforms weren’t too stylish,” I noted.

“No, they weren’t,” my mother agreed. “I wear better clothes now.”

They include the fringe skirt and black top she wore to a family birthday bash.

“How does it feel to be 90?” I asked.

“Pretty good,” she said. “I don’t feel like it and I don’t act like it.”

“And,” added my wife, Sue, who shares her birthday with my mother but is, of course, considerably younger, “you don’t look like it.”

Sue should know because she could be a model herself.

My mother’s next gig will be another fashion show at Chico’s.

“I know your mom will be a hit again,” said Terry. “She’s a star.”

Let’s see if Heidi Klum can say that when she’s 90.

— Jerry Zezima

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

Ripping the headlines today

Paul_LanderThe news doesn’t need to be complicated and confusing; that’s what any new release from Microsoft is for.  And, as in the case with anything from Microsoft, to keep the news from worrying our pretty little heads over, remember something new and equally indecipherable will come out soon.

Really all you need to do is follow one simple rule:  barely pay attention and jump to conclusions.  So, here are some headlines today and my first thoughts:

Pope urges G-20 to focus on helping the poor

The last time a Pope mentioned G-20 it was during a Church Bingo Night.

350-year-old high heels uncovered at Irish castle

Betty White: “So that’s where I left them.”

Walmart to sell health insurance

Although I’m not sure I want a 7-year-old Chinese kid operating on me.

NATO jets intercept Russian military plane over Baltic States

As opposed to NY Jets who only get intercepted.

25 years ago the Berlin Wall came down

Many are thinking of putting it back up to keep out David Hasselhoff.

Happy 50th B-day, Calista Flockhart

Congratulations on your age and weight now being the same.

Ted Cruz says net neutrality is ‘Obamacare for the Internet’

Look for Rand Paul to top him by calling it “The Web Benghazi.”

Surgeon with Ebola virus flown to Nebraska

I’m guessing because the virus would rather die than be in Nebraska.

CBS apologize for airing Harbaugh comments

What they should apologize for is airing Raider games.

Frozen actress sues Disney over $926 paycheck for voicing Elsa

No word if frozen Walt Disney responded.

Kim Kardashian goes full frontal naked

Mostly because no one would recognize her with her clothes on.

Glenn Beck reveals brain disease ‘made me look crazy’ on Fox News

Which given the competition on FOX News really says something.

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Noble Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours,  Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written standup material that’s been performed on Leno, Letterman, Conan, “Last Comic Standing,” etc. His humor pieces have appeared in The New Yorker, Santa Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. Now, on to Paul’s time commanding Special Forces in Khandahar…

Married to an all-or-nothing spouse

Janine TalbotMy husband is what you would call an all-or-nothing kind of guy. There are other words for it, but we’ll just go with that for now. He doesn’t share my lick-and-a-promise method of doing certain things, for instance, vacuuming. He will actually move things out of the way. It’s the darnest thing.

When we are working with a time frame, I try my hardest to steer him away from anything that causes his eyes to glaze over in anticipation of diving in and losing track of time. Too often he will somehow manage to spot something that will easily suck up an hour and make my hair go grayer by the minute.

Take, for a small example, when he wanted to clean out the kitchen sink so it was available to rinse off some freshly picked garden vegetables. A few dishes had to be taken care of and I was in the middle of something else (anything else, thank you), so he volunteered to take over the sink situation.

A little while later I happened to pass through the kitchen as he held the sponge under the soap dispenser and loaded it up like he was on a mission to scrub every dirty dish on our street. He lifted the first item in the sink — a plastic sandwich container. Soon the container’s shape was indiscernible. Mountains of lather bubbled up and surrounded it, swallowing the container and dripping chunks of foam onto other objects awaiting their massage. I mean, cleaning.

I noticed Spouse’s eyes had a dazed look as he stared out the window into the back yard deep in some kind of sudsy thought. I felt like he was enjoying this just a little too much but hey, I wasn’t going to volunteer to take over. We’re talking housework here. It was a half hour before the six things in the sink were all washed and placed in the strainer.

By then it was dusk and the vegetables were still in the garden. Guess who was not going to be washing off garden items at 8 p.m.? That would be me.

Today, though, our kitchen looks like a farmer’s market with eggplant, zucchini, parsley and peppers splayed across the counter and table. That’s because his all-or-nothing thought process means all the vegetables he had finally gotten around to stripping from the garden and placing in our basement refrigerator are now in the process of being cleaned, cut up, and cooked. I just wish he knew how to do this one item at a time instead of all at once so my kitchen wouldn’t look like I’m making a giant vat of ratatouille.

Our normal haphazard fall routine is to strip the garden and then have too much to handle and too little space to handle it. We procrastinate prepping anything for immediate or future use, ignore the globs forming in the corner of the fridge, and lose half of what he grew. Fortunately, I’ve been perusing the cooking channel website, and I’ve gotten some great ideas for using this year’s veggies. I have scrumptious plans for the eggplant thanks to Giada, and Debi Mazar’s zucchini frittata sounds like a winner. We also have plenty of peppers to make poppers this weekend when the Love Couple is visiting. I’m feeling accomplished this fall. Now if I could just figure out what to do with that overabundance of parsley that continues to grow like this is July instead of November.

Being married to an all-or-nothing guy means when he isn’t in a SpongeBob trance he becomes fully immersed in projects, whether it’s stripping gardens or soaping up every dish he can get his hands on. My job is to try and keep up, and hope I have room for whatever his current obsession is.

Ratatouille, anyone?

— Janine Talbot

Janine Talbot has been writing since before her eighth grade teacher accused her of plagiarizing a poem she wrote. She has published locally in guest editorials, and her lyrics received honorable mention in American Songwriter Magazine’s Lyric Contest. At 50-something and experiencing the empty nest (i.e., a spare bedroom with a desk), she is diving into the blogging world, sharing her stresses about her long-distance daughters, a spouse who lives for SpongeBob marathons, a blind golden retriever and a cat she swears screams “Now” at feeding time. She blogs here.

Sidewalk ice and the winter graph

Tracy BucknerWith all of the talk about the polar vortex, I can’t help thinking that winter, snow and the sidewalk are upon us — and what all that means for the next few months.

Sidewalk ice has different meanings depending on your age. It’s like looking at a graph with a downward slope: fun is the top point and death is the bottom point.

If you’re a child, winter, snow and sidewalk ice can only mean one thing: Fun with a capital F. You’re at the high point on the winter graph. Your mom bundles you up and out you go into a winter wonderland filled with sledding, sliding, falling, snowballs, snow angels and snow forts. Your nose is running and your fingers are wet and freezing, but you don’t notice. Children are blissfully unaware of impending doom and a visit to the ER when they look outside. Sidewalk ice? If you slip, you slip.

On to the teen years, where style comes before warmth at all times. At this age, looking good is more important than being warm. Take a trip to a local high school where in 2- degree weather, the girls are dressed in uggs with mini-skirts and you will know what I mean. My mother would be lucky if she could get me to wear a winter coat. I wore a hat until she was out of sight. So similar to today’s teens, I was usually freezing, but damn, did I look good. Sidewalk ice? I didn’t give it a moment’s thought.

During life’s next stage, you’re working outside the home, or home with the kids. (“Home with the kids” is also “working” but you don’t get to leave the house for adult conversation, no coffee or lunch break, you don’t get paid for putting your life on hold, and, best of all, you get no respect whatsoever. I’m sounding bitter, aren’t I? But that’s a future blog, so stay tuned).

During this stage, your children, upon hearing that phone ring early in the morning, are ecstatic, knowing it can only mean one thing: A SNOW DAY! If you’re a stay-at-home or a working mom, however, you hear that early morning ring and you think….”shoot me.” It might mean fun with a capital F to your kids, but you are probably thinking of another word, also with a capital F. The point on the winter graph is beginning to drop significantly.

But, I remember once after the plow had come, my kids went outside and saw the tremendously high drift that the plow had left at the bottom of our drive. Within 10 minutes they had made it into a fort with snow windows and little seats. Then they made a small slide. A few neighborhood kids came over and it was all fun and laughter and snowsuits, and hats and gloves and boots. As I watched from my window,  I thought to myself, “Go outside. Forget the ice.”

So I did.

None of them seemed to notice that I was dressed like an Eskimo, so I started collecting rocks and sticks and began decorating their fort. Before long all of them were collecting whatever greenery they could find and decorating along with me. My nose was running and my hands were wet and freezing, but I was having a great time. It was like being Snow White with her seven dwarfs. If I fell, there would be seven kids to pick me up.

I didn’t fall.

Afterwards, I went inside and made hot chocolate for everyone and even had marshmallows handy in the pantry. Then I invited some of my friends over who were similarly thrilled with the snow day and darned if Jack Daniels didn’t go great with the hot chocolate! Why should only kids have all the fun?

Now I’m at the bottom of the winter graph where its uggs without the mini-skirt for me. Looking good? Forget it. It takes 10 minutes to get ready to leave the house as you put on a winter coat, tie a scarf around your neck, pull the same scarf over your nose and mouth, put on gloves and a hat. I imagine it’s like wearing a burka as only your eyes are exposed.

My daughter says, “Mom, you’re only walking 20 feet to get the mail,” but I don’t care. And I can’t think of letting her get the mail because she would only wear a mini skirt with uggs. My only concern is staying out of the ER and keeping the circulation going in my fingers and toes.

At my age, I’m at the lowest point on the winter graph. I look at sidewalk ice and think, “I’m going to die.”

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills, which serves Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can see read other pieces and sign up to follow her on her blog.

How to write a book

Molly CampbellNow that I am a “real” author, I can give advice to all of you out there who want to publish your novel. I have perfected a system that works for me. I thought I would share it for your benefit:

Sit down at the computer. Think of what your main character is wearing. Try to describe it without using the words “nice” or “very.” Picture your character getting dressed in the morning. Then wonder if he likes fried eggs over easy or scrambled.

This reminds you that you are out of eggs. Get up and add eggs to the grocery list, and then remember to add coffee and cottage cheese. Wander into the living room, where you notice that there are two dead Stinkbugs on the windowsill by the bird feeder. Yell “You Goddamn f******!” really loudly. Get a Kleenex and flush the disgusting insects. Return to the living room to make sure the rest of the room is free of bugs. Notice that the bird feeder is empty, and experience a pang of sympathy for that darling, starving cardinal who is sitting dejectedly on one of the feeder’s perches. Rush onto the back porch to get more seed. Go outside and fill feeder.

Once out there, notice how chilly it is getting. Look around and remember that you never planted that bag of daffodil bulbs that is sitting in the garage. Go into the house for a coat and work gloves. Take the bulbs from the garage along with a trowel. Attempt to plant one. The ground is way too hard, and what’s more, you feel that even though you might have gloves on, your manicure is in danger.

Put gloves and bulbs back in the garage. Go back into the house and make an appointment to get your nails done. Have a glass of ice water. Go upstairs and change into a more presentable shirt — you don’t want the people at the nail salon to think you are a slacker.

Look at your watch. Oh, gosh! Your appointment is in a half hour! Rush downstairs, get your purse and keys. Rush into the garage. Turn around, go back and lock the door.

Drive to the salon. When you get there, decide that you have earned a pedicure as well as a manicure, because you work so hard as a writer and wife. Tell them you want the hot stone massage, too.

Enjoy your lovely mani/pedi. As you sit there, try to decide what to have for dinner. Chicken is good. Maybe some salad.

After your nails are done, go to the store for dinner ingredients. Make the chicken recipe, and put it in the oven. Look around the kitchen and realize how dirty the floor is. Get down on hands and knees and wash floor, feeling guilty that you are such a horrible housekeeper.

Take a break. Maybe a chair nap.

Have dinner and clean up. Watch that great PBS show about British detectives. Yawn. Go to bed. As you drift off to sleep, remember that your character was wearing dark brown corduroys, but no shirt — you didn’t get that far. Vow to be more disciplined tomorrow.

If anybody asks you how long it takes to write a book, say this, “It takes years of hard work. Writing and polishing. Rewriting. Editing.”

Now you know the story behind the story…

— Molly D. Campbell

Molly D. Campbell writes a blog from her pantry, often in pajamas. She is a two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Competition award winner, winning honorable mentions in both the humor and human interest categories in 2010 and 2012. She recently self-published Characters in search of a novel, and her novel Keep the Ends Loose will be released by The Story Plant in late February or early March 2015.

Do’s and don’ts of chaperoning the middle school field trip

Shannan Ball YoungerWhen chaperoning a school field trip, you need to be prepared, and that’s especially true when dealing with middle schoolers. This info to keep in mind when called upon to do your time herding the cats help shape the minds of our youth as they go out into the world to learn what they cannot in the classroom. Well maybe not, but you’ll at least be more prepared than I and some of my fellow chaperones were when exploring the local arboretum recently.

Don’t talk to or make eye contact with your child.

I don’t mean this, but your kid would want me to tell you this.

When students, teachers and chaperones gathered in the cafeteria prior to departing on our adventure, I waved to my child. It was subtle, no more than the mere wiggling of a few fingers. She turned beet red, buried her face in her hands and was consoled by friends.

Mission accomplished.

Do wear a turtleneck if at all possible.

Despite the admonition to not pick anything at the arboretum, a boy in my group ripped off a ton of seeds from the tall grass in the prairie. (The fact that his mother was also chaperoning did not deter him, as she did not put down her camera for the entire five hours and followed the rule above.)

The  boy launched the handful of grass seed into the air and a strong wind gust blew all the seeds directly into my face.

I stared him down. He seemed baffled by getting “the look.” Guess it’s hard to do that through a camera lens.

Fast-forward several hours after the field trip. I was running errands and felt a stabbing pain in my breast. I tried to subtly adjust the girls while pumping gas and moved along. In the grocery store, sharp pain in a different part of the same boob, then a third one when I returned home.

I know breast cancer is not typically painful so I instead started wondering what awful, obscure medical condition I was facing. (This happening in October is probably somewhat related to that thought.)

I reached into my bra and discovered grass seeds.

Those little f-ers hurt.

When I was bombarded in the face, and apparently chest, with the grass seeds, I was wearing a raincoat over a fleece over a sweater over a t-shirt. What? I believe in layering. I had, however, failed to think about my neck. Had I been wearing a turtleneck, I would have been spared the pain. Please, learn from me.

Do change immediately after returning home if you don’t like turtlenecks or live somewhere warm. Also, take a long, hot shower.

Those would have meant a significantly more comfortable afternoon.

Don’t agree to chaperone outdoor field trips.

Such a policy will greatly lessen the risk of sharp, pointy seeds down your shirt. Indoor-only field trips will not completely eliminate the risk. We’re talking about tweens, though; they can be squirrely.

Don’t forget to notice that your kid and his/her friends are pretty snazzy.

On the bus back to the school, a fellow chaperone said she had enjoyed observing her son and was reminded that he is good egg. Tweens and teens may drive us crazy at home, but part of the fun of this age group is getting to see the fruits of those dozen or so years of hard work when they are in public.

Apparently, that’s something I’m willing to spend five hours walking through the woods and shooting pain to witness.

— Shannan Ball Younger

Shannan Ball Younger is a writer living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and tween daughter. She blogs about parenting at Mom Factually and weathering the hormone hurricane at Tween Us on ChicagoNow. She grew up in Erma’s home state of Ohio and was thrilled to attend the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2014. Her essays can be found in the anthologies My Other Ex and The HerStories Project. She was part of the Listen to Your Mother Chicago 2013 cast. You can also find Shannan on Facebook and Twitter.

My lunch with Saul Bellow

Con ChapmanIt isn’t every day I have lunch with a Nobel Prize-winning author, so I’ll never forget the day in 1970 when I walked into the faculty club at the University of Chicago and saw Saul Bellow, author of The Adventures of Augie March, among other great works I hadn’t read.

I didn’t actually have lunch with Bellow. I had lunch beforehand, in the kitchen with the rest of the help. I’ll admit it — I was just a waiter, not a member of Bellow’s inner circle of friends, or even his inner circle of enemies, which was a slightly larger group if one reads his works as romans a clef.

So I didn’t eat with Bellow, but I was as close as I’d ever been to literary fame at the time, and probably ever will be. Bellow was a living, breathing novelist with an international reputation who would go on to win the Nobel Prize six years later. It was all I could do not to rush up to him like some stupid Hollywood autograph hound and say “Mr. Bellow, you’re one of my biggest fans!”

But I respected his privacy and stuck to my role, bringing out the food, filling water glasses, sneaking a peek at the two greatest hits underneath the blouse of the Barbra Streisand look-alike on my shift.

I watched Bellow’s every move because I wanted to see how a famous novelist acted in real life.Would he be ferocious, skewering the chalky professors at his table? Would he be captivating, regaling his listeners with stories of his years in Europe? How exactly is a minor living legend supposed to behave, I asked. Just in case I ever needed to know.

The answer? Bored. Bellow sat down at an empty table and looked around the room with an expression that said he’d rather be dead in a ditch than where he was just then. My guess is the luncheon was a dog-and-pony show for potential donors — just the way a guy who probably had to fend off high-brow literary women with a stick would want to spend his day.

Being a big-name author in academia isn’t a bad gig. You give a graduate seminar every semester, boff a couple of coeds — it’s in the contract, right after the “Whereas” clauses — get your picture on the cover of the alumni magazine. But you’re also there for some contact with actual human beings, like say a wealthy alumnus/alumna who’s written a first novel.

Bellow’s aspect was distant, and everyone who passed by knew he was famous. So no one joined him at first, which he appeared to prefer. He stared around the room, then took his butter knife, stood a pat of butter up on edge, and put his knife down again. After a while a few people sat down at his table, introduced themselves, and he broke into a slight smile, which did nothing to dispel his air of ill-suppressed discomfort. I was distracted for a moment by someone and when I turned around, he was gone. The only evidence of his brief presence was that pat of butter on its edge, as Bellow must have been the whole time he was there.

From this close encounter with fame, I took a lesson that has come in handy over the years. If you want to appear superior to everyone around you at a social gathering, look bored — and play with the stuff on your table! Here are a few of the techniques I’ve perfected that lend me an aura of literary snootiness at gala dinners, business lunches and power breakfasts:

Balance two forks on a toothpick: Snap a toothpick at its mid-point and stick one end in a salt shaker. Join the forks at the tines, and suspend on one end of the toothpick. Where are you going to find a toothpick in a faculty club of a major university, you ask? Ask the assistant professor of long-haul trucking sitting next to you.

Balance your fork on your finger: If you can’t do the above-described trick, try this one, you klutz. Lay your fork right side up across your index finger at a right angle, and allow it to teeter-totter back and forth until it reaches equilibrium. Knives do not have a concave surface, and spoons are too light for this trick.

Drop a wine cork so that it stands up on an end. This is easier than it sounds. Hold the cork horizontally, so that it is parallel to the surface of the table. My preferred grip is between the outstretched second and fourth fingers, although this leaves the middle finger pointing across at your tablemates, which may lead to misunderstandings. Hold the cork gently, then release both ends at the same time. At first, if you succeed in making the cork pop up on its end just one time in 10, you’re doing fine. With practice, you should be able to do it in three tries or less, causing ingenue poetesses to look on you as a God of Belle Lettres.

Matchbook field goals. You can’t smoke in most fancy restaurants and clubs anymore, but you can get a book of matches — what for is not exactly clear. Stand the matchbook on its edge and flick across the table at finger goal posts set up by a table mate

The cooperation of another bored person in your party is essential, but a Nobel Prize in Literature is optional.

— 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.

Reflections of Erma