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The monster under the bed

Jon ZieglerOne night, when I walked into 5-year-old Natalie’s room to tell her goodnight, I noticed that the child was crouching on the edge of her bed, looking down to the floor as if she were waiting for something to come out from under her.

“What on earth are you doing, baby girl?”

“There’s a robber under my bed,” she stated matter of factly.

With a chuckle, I assured her, “There is no robber under your bed. I don’t think anyone could even fit under . . .”

But before I could finish my sentence, I heard it. From under the bed, there came a faint rustling sound and then a “clunk.” I felt my eyes get big as I shot a look at Natalie, who returned it with an expression that clearly said, “I told you.”

In what must have been a brief moment of panic, I lost track of just how it came to be that I ended up crouched on the edge of the bed next to Natalie, looking down at the ground as if we were waiting for something to come out from under us.

After a few tense minutes and a few more noises from under the bed, my older daughter Hannah wandered into the room and looked at the two of us inquisitively.

“What are you guys doing?” she asked.

“There’s a robber under the bed,” my youngest answered.

Hannah looked at me for some clarification.

“Umm, I don’t think it’s a robber . . .” I started to explain cautiously.

“There’s a monster under the bed,” Natalie then added.

Again Hannah looked at me.

With a shrug of unsureness, I tried to prevent the situation from elevating to sheer terror, “Well, I’m not going to say that I think there’s a monster under the bed, but . . .”

The clunking noise once again came from underneath the bed. In a flash, Hannah took her crouching place next to me and Natalie on the edge of the bed, all three of us looking at the floor as if we were waiting for something to come out from under us.

Hannah turned to me and with a fearful voice said, “It’s a monster isn’t it?”

For a second I tried to formulate a less scary explanation for the noises that were emanating from under the bed, but I had nothing. The clunk was far too heavy to be a mouse.

“Yes, it might be a monster,” I was finally forced to admit to my daughter.

One of the unfortunate aspects of being a father in a situation such as this is that both of my daughters sat wide-eyed and silently staring at me, waiting for me to figure out how to save the three of us. My brain scrambled, trying desperately to come up with a solution, while simultaneously doing my best to suppress the rising sense of horror that I was beginning to succumb.

I realized that my cell phone was in my pocket, so I pulled it out and speed dialed my wife, who was downstairs watching American Idol completely unaware that her husband and two daughters were trapped upstairs facing certain death.

“Hello?” she answered in a somewhat bewildered tone, “aren’t you upstairs?”

“Yes, I am. I need you to go to the basement and get one of the softball bats and bring it up here . . . or a butcher knife, either one, and don’t ask!”

“What are you talking about?” she said, sounding curiously annoyed.

“Please just do it,” I plead without trying to sound frantic.

I could hear her moving around downstairs and grumbling about having to get off of the couch. I heard the kitchen drawer open and close, followed by the sound of my wife coming up the steps.

“What is going on up here?” she demanded as she entered the room.

“There’s a monster under the bed.” Natalie explained quite calmly.

My wife looked at Hannah, who nodded in agreement, and then at me.

“Well, I’m not going to go so far as to say that it’s a monster under there, but there is something.”

Right on cue, the rustling and clunk sound started up again. My wife’s gaze focused on the underside of the bed.

Without a word, she walked over to the edge of the bed and squatted down to look underneath our perch. She then let out a disgusted snort and reached under the bed. The three of us on the bed gasped and hid our eyes. A mild scuffle could be heard, and then she pulled her arm back out and held up CeeCee, our large Persian cat.

With a sigh of relief, the three of us were able to get off the edge of the bed. In addition to relief, I also felt a bit of embarrassment over having been saved from a “monster” by my wife.

“So you thought there was something under the bed, and called ME to come up and deal with it?” my wife demanded. “Were you thinking that it would be better for me to get attacked by the monster instead of YOU?”

“That’s why I told you to bring up a weapon,” I answered pathetically. “I figured if you had a bat or a knife, you might fare better than the three of us who were unarmed!”

Ever since the whole monster under the bed incident, my wife seems to delight in telling the story, shedding a most unflattering light on my role in the situation. I have since vowed that no matter what type of horrible beast is haunting our house, I would much rather be eaten alive, than to give her any more ammunition for degrading stories such as this one she enjoys telling.

— Jon Ziegler

Jon Ziegler is a husband, father of two girls and a tree trimmer who started writing as an outlet for what he calls “creative madness.” He’s the author of The How-Not-To Guide to Parenting and Marriage and From Inside the Brain of a Dad Looking Out.

When we played tag, Dad drove

Bob NilesFather’s Day has to be the easiest celebration to plan for — a celebration, that if left up to Dads, would not go ahead at all because all Dads really want is just to be left alone.

Father’s Day was brought about to complement Mother’s Day as Wikipedia would have us believe. And it wasn’t a guy who brought it about, but a woman. A daughter who wanted to honor her Dad.  What’s he going to say after she had gone to all that work? “No thanks honey. If you really want to do something special, just leave me alone.” (The guy had raised six kids by himself! Of course, he wants to be alone.)

My Dad never wanted a fuss. Heck, he didn’t want kids! Us four boys would ask dear old Dad what he would like from us for Father’s Day and each year he would respond, “Get adopted by another family!” Ah, what a kidder.

Dad’s idea of a perfect Father’s Day would be getting off the couch and finding a perfect outline of himself in potato chips after watching an afternoon of golf.  That’s a day I would like to achieve. But every year we would try to do something special for him because that’s what Moms like. So why not Dads? Moms like to get dressed up and stand in line with a lot of other dressed-up Moms and wait for their names to be called in a restaurant on their special day. Why wouldn’t Dad like something special like that?

I guess we missed the subtle clues throughout the year that Dad wanted just to be left alone on his special day — like when we played tag and he drove away. Our first tubby toy was a plug-in radio. And Dad’s favorite game with us was “Hide-n-go…” No, it was just “Hide-n-go.” He never came looking for us.

He’d say little things like “I made three just like you. I can take you out and make another, and no one would miss you. Your mother is the only one stopping me.” What a kidder.

It’s not that he didn’t do things with us. He just had his own style of doing things. When it snowed, he’d take us out bumper hitching. For those unfamiliar with this, you’d grab hold of the rear bumper of the family Pontiac while squatting on your feet as Dad pulled you along the snowy road. It was big in the ’60s, but neighbors today would probably phone the cops on such a parent — especially my Dad, who  made us hold the front bumper! “Keep your arms real stiff!” he’d yell. What a kidder.

We were never a huggy-feely family who shared a lot of emotions to let old Dad know we loved him. I remember once hugging my Dad, which greatly surprised him.

My Dad was a kidder. He loved to laugh. Growing up, I really enjoyed his laughter. A house is so much better with laughter. My happiest childhood memories revolve around my Dad when he was happy. And he wasn’t happy that much. It’s not like he raised us in fear of punishment, but he carried the world on his shoulders and did more worrying than one human should possibly do. So, laughter was a welcome change.

If there was ever a time I had the chance to show my Dad how much I appreciated him, it wasn’t on a Father’s Day. It was when we drove up to Fort St. John in northern British Columbia together. I was doing a plumbing job there, and he came along for the two-day drive before I flew him back home. He more than once thanked me for the scenery and the one-on-one time we spent together for those two days. I was lucky he gave me the chance to do it before he passed away.

I’ve been blessed with several days in my life that I was so proud to be a father to each one of my kids. It wasn’t cards, gifts or dinners, but rather a special moment in each of their lives that made me proud and made me think this dad thing is all worthwhile. It’s alright.

I wasn’t the best son a Dad could have, and deserved the threat of being taken out and another one made just like me. Thank you, Mom! And my kids, at times, came close to that same threat. But, just like me, they came around before it was too late.

On Father’s Day, buy Dad dinner, play a round of golf, take him fishing or just tell him you understand and leave him alone. That’s what my kids do for me.

Father’s Day is not found in days paid for and expected, but in days that my kids have worked for and made sacrifices to achieve their desired goals. And then, hopefully, during your lifetime they make you so proud that you get the chance to stick out your chest and say, “THAT’S MY KID!” Do you know what he just did?” All the work, prayers, hopes and dreams a Dad puts into a kid suddenly sprouts. That’s Father’s Day.

— Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names), honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs here.

Women + horses = epicurean delight

Mary Farr and NoahA few new guests have arrived at my home sweet home — all females. And this usually means their human partners are female, too. Woman and the horses that manage them — it is a curious tradition that governs most stables.

Fortunately for us, the female attraction to horses begins at an early age and often lasts a lifetime. This is good because according to CNN breaking news airing in our poker room, we need lots of clever women to untangle the world’s snags. Now, I don’t know a greenhouse gas from a hothouse geranium, but the women I hang out with can figure out how to make things run properly.

In my experience, they resolve their conflicts without the use of a lot of foul language or firearms. Well, maybe an off-color joke or an uncouth burp now and then, but mostly I hear females settling their disagreements with cordial, law-abiding methods.

What’s more, women know how to get along with tricky horses. Show me a cow horse that’s bored with cattle, and I’ll find you a woman who can change his mind. Or, let me introduce a reluctant dressage prospect to a savvy female. In no time, this problem student is crazy about full bridles and performing pirouettes. Maybe it’s their innate knack for diplomacy that enables women to change a Clydesdale with a stinky attitude into a winning cribbage player.

These horse partnerships also provide women a perfect antidote to a midlife crisis. For those who can’t afford to travel the world seeking their bliss, or studying Hindu Sanskrit, a tactful horse makes a perfect midlife companion. We make dandy travel buddies and fine dinner dates as well.

Let me also mention the curious connection between our girlish mates and good food. In short, they know their way around the kitchen. That’s not to say they belong in the kitchen. Oh no. They belong anywhere they choose to be, whether it’s the Old Country Buffet salad line or the Supreme Court. I just happen to know that Madam and her horse chums turn out fabulous food, including fabulous birthday cakes and horse treats that magically appear in my room.

So, all this leads me to a food chat we visit daily at our house: When do I get to sign up for “Cooking with Chef Cal?” Not classes that feature Brussels sprouts quiche or kumquat casserole. I want to learn how to serve up the good stuff — kid-tested, horse-friendly party food. You never know, this could even land me a new career as Emeril Lagasse’s sous chef.

Yes, I know these inspirations of mine require a little assistance from my assistant. But remember, we’re talking about a woman. Not only is she sterling on the keyboard, Madam knows a thing or two about operating the KitchenAid mixer and all those attachments that go with it. It sounds like a winning recipe to me!

— Noah Vail

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

Suburban haiku: pet peeves

Peyton PriceCAT NIPS

When company’s here
we shoo Kitty off tables
like she’s not allowed.

Why thank you, Kitty
for trotting right up to me
to vomit. Both times.

Ooh, look at the cat!
She’s got something in the hall.
That’s one dead oak leaf.

When the new couch comes
things are gonna be different.
I mean it, Kitty!

The cat licks her paw
and rubs it on my son’s head.
Can she pack his lunch?

He burps in my face
but says “God Bless you, Kitty”
at each tiny sneeze.


When the dog’s pooping
the kids stop calling her name.
Unlike when I am.

Our dog is well trained
to stay off of the sofa
when I’m in the room.

In misty weather
trying to find the short leash
for toads’ protection.

The dog’s locked away
howling that the cable guy
might want to pet her.

I blurted out “S%*^!”
but the dog thought I said “SIT!”
quite fortunately.

I must stop the dog
from barking at that new kid.
He’ll think we’re racist!

The dog’s ears and mine
perk up at every car door
until he comes home.

— Peyton Price

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook or in the living room attempting to remove pet stains from the new rug.

Corporate corsage

Lucia-1-11Name tags are corporate corsages. This is my big idea. Don’t steal it.

Think about it. You’ve chosen your outfit. You’re ready to go. Then someone slaps a big object on your shoulder that essentially brands you.

Just like a corsage back in prom days.

“Gee thanks, Billy. This large orange orchid strangled with baby’s breath does wonders for my lime green chiffon halter.”

During my time in corporate America, I attended a lot of business functions. I was a “creative” in advertising and counted among my clients some financial services giants.

I was split between the casual nature of advertising and the buttoned-down world of investment banking.

I was a copywriter, so I didn’t come from an investment background, and didn’t have an MBA.  In the early days, I used to simply carry on conversations at business functions complete with my own opinions. Silly me.

“Isn’t the stock market sort of like legalized gambling?” I asked once at a cocktail event.

The sawing motions being violently made by a sympathetic creative cohort weren’t lost on me, and I could see the collective eyes of everyone in pinstripes looking at my right shoulder.

The ivory name tag that was pinned to my jacket was ready to tattle on me.

“Remember this name,” it said quietly but firmly.

I’d like to briefly congratulate myself on some of my insights. This was pre-market meltdown. So maybe I was the brightest mind in the room.

I understand why we have name tags in business settings. Typically, one will include name and title, and possibly city or region, if it’s a company with multiple locations.

Who hasn’t been saved by quickly noting, “Carol Johnson. Human Resources. Chicago,” before saying, “Well, we have those dolts in Chicago to thank for that rotten quarter.”

Maybe an excavation will reveal they were part of the ancient world, too: A large collection of small chiseled tablets inscribed “Tut. Pharaoh. Thebes.”

No decent corporate corsage is complete without the current tagline of the company’s advertising campaign. If it is for an award trip, there might be a theme included.

“Fred Jones. Compliance. Quad Cities. Wishing On a Star in San Diego.”

Fred was probably wishing he could knock off the small talk and head back to the room for some SportsCenter and a beer.

After years on the periphery of financial services, I was in possession of a pretty impressive collection of name tags.

I had turned into someone who didn’t go to most dinners, cocktail parties, business trips or outings without a name tag. Their shapes were as varied as the events I had attended (ships, whistles, trees, chalkboards), I started bringing them home and putting them in a drawer.

One day I laid them out: dozens of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, cocktail parties and dinners, memorialized in label form.

You know the ending of the story. The market bubble burst, and along with those soapy remains, went the lion share of corporate entertaining and travel.

My new business life is a lot more relaxed.

As often happens in life, I recently had to reverse my attitude about corporate corsages. I attended a writers’ conference where there were many attendees I already admired, and even more who, as I spoke with them, wanted to commit their names to memory. I was grateful for the lanyards with name tag attached we had all been issued at the start of the event.

I guess it goes to show; sometimes a gal really does need a corsage.

— Lucia Paul

Lucia Paul’s humor writing includes an award-winning sitcom script and essays that have appeared in numerous publications. She is a regular humor contributor to numerous online publications on topics ranging from the financial crisis to parenting teens. She has stories and essays in multiple anthologies including two Not Your Mother’s Book titles: NYMB…on Home Improvement (2013) and NYMB…on Being a Mom (June 2014).  She is also the creative mind behind names for some of America’s best loved consumer products. Find her at and Twitter @DFscrapbook.

Sore to the core

Steve EskewWhen I write plays, sometimes I base my characterizations on composites of various people. Other times, I simply cut out a portrait from a magazine or newspaper. As I develop the character, I usually place that image directly in front of me.

Today, that technique came to bite me or at least nibble on my noggin.

While walking down Seventh Avenue in the Big Apple, the sight of a familiar face flabbergasted me. A man in the maddening crowd bore more than an uncanny resemblance to a serial rapist from the days  when I lived in Omaha. There’s no mistake. Today’s guy in the crowd absolutely had to be the Omaha rapist. But that’s impossible. The Omaha man is considerably dead.

The guy’s mugshot had appeared in the Omaha World Herald in 1989 on the same day that his crime spree came to a screeching halt. The story detailed how he had attempted to rape a young woman who had unwittingly jogged into the wooded area where he had been waiting.

When I had seen his image staring at me from the front page back in ’89, I immediately cut it out and stuck it on my desktop. I knew this face would be a perfect inspiration for the barbaric but bumbling serial killer for my play titled Macho Man Murders. Indeed, the fiendish face inspired me to write every line for that character, even the lines for what other characters said about him.

Today’s mystery man, Manhattan’s dead ringer for the Omaha rapist, vanished into the crowd, leaving me strangely frustrated. I had studied that face much too intensely not to recognize it. There’s no mistake. It was the same face. Such unsolved mysteries make me crazy.

The Omaha lookalike killed himself for reasons we men can well understand. While this aspiring rapist was readying himself in position, his victim had the gall to land a significant kick directly to his cashews. Ouch! To add insult to injury, while he lay withering in pain, screaming unprintable epithets, the young woman grabbed her stun-gun and aimed it at his eyes. That enabled her to escape and call the cops.

Within minutes, the lecherous, (and now) visually impaired rogue was surrounded by police. There he crouched, half blind, in a losing battle with authorities, plus suffering excruciating pain from head to crotch. Such agony proved to be too much for him. The wannabe rapist ate his gun. Who wouldn’t kill himself?

There’s a dark comic tale in there somewhere that I need to start taking notes on. I hadn’t thought about the guy in years until today. Could the guy I saw today in Manhattan be that long-dead scoundrel’s son? Nah. Well, maybe.

All those years ago while writing my play, each time I glanced up at the rapist’s mugshot, a cramping sensation would land in the pit of my stomach. Images of our daughters leaped to mind. They were then roughly the same age as the rape victim cited above. We had taught them to avoid desolate areas, but I worried that they would become careless and venture into deserted paths.

We had also taught them to strike back at attackers just like the would-be victim in Omaha did. Still, after I saw that dead ringer on the street today, the first thing I did was contact my daughters. They’re fine. Me, too.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website,

Lowell T. Christensen

Lowell Christensen headshotLowell T. Christensen is the winner of the Robert Benchley Society Humor Writing Competition and author of The One-Minute Zillionaire — Achieve Wealth, Fame, and Success in an Instant, Give or Take a Hundred Years. He has kept himself busily occupied as a writer, engineer, rocket scientist, musician, backhoe operator, outdoorsman, chef, rancher and international traveler. His previous books include Coping with Texas and Other Staggering Feets and Beginning Farming and What Makes a Sheep Tick, and he has written magazine articles that feature presidential elections through the theme of Shakespearean plays.

Laughter and light

Tedford, Michelle (This piece will appear in the summer issue of the University of Dayton Magazine.)

It was three days full of belly-laughing, donkey-snorting, mascara-running good times with 350 humor writers from around the country.

And there I was, sitting in Sears Recital Hall, trying not to cry.

A fellow attendee at UD’s biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop had just stood up. Her name was Kate. She had come here from Newtown, Conn. “I was funny and lost my funny,” she told us as we rummaged our pockets for tissues. “I came here to find it again.”

We knew she hadn’t just lost it. This writer had her funny ripped from her in her own hometown by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter. When would it be OK, she wondered, to laugh again?

It’s when life makes us ask such question that we need laughter the most.

At the workshop’s keynote dinner, Phil Donahue reminded us of the power of laughter as he talked about his good friend, the late Erma Fiste Bombeck ’49. The father of daytime talk shows and the mother of misadventures had been neighbors in Centerville, Ohio, each raising stair-step children while launching their careers.

In her writing, he said, was an honesty that touched the world. She popped balloons of pretense with daggers of laughter. Her humor was revolutionary.

“Motherhood was sacred,” Donahue said as he intoned popular sentiment: “‘Oh, how blessed you are. Oh, what a wonderful mother you are.’ Mothers were on pedestals. And Erma would do a column something like, ‘I am going to sell my children.’ She punctured that pretense, and she was speaking for millions of women.”

My own mother taped Bombeck’s words to our goldenrod-yellow refrigerator door — not the words about selling us, as far as I can remember, though I certainly would have deserved it for digging a pond in the backyard and filling it with frogs, which attracted crows from three counties.

Millions of women also taped Bombeck to their fridges, taking strength from the joys of an imperfect life with this sister who cautioned us to never have more children than we have car windows. It is a community that stretches through the miles and across the decades and that, every two years, materializes at UD, where a young Erma was told by her English professor, “You can write.”

This April, Donahue repeated the phrase, adding a charge to use our words to move mountains. “We have an assembly of people of conscience here … and you may just be the people who will make our lives better,” he said.

With their words and their support, the attendees embraced Kate from Newtown, who later wrote, “My three days in Dayton were extraordinary, and when the laughter died down I learned this above all: the line between tragedy and comedy does exist, and while laughing in the face of any horror is nearly impossible, the only way through the tears and darkness is with laughter and light.”

— Michelle Tedford

Michelle Tedford is the editor of the University of Dayton Magazine.

Reflections of Erma