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Pigeons have copied our brains

Con ChapmanIn a summer long past I worked as an intern in Washington, D.C. and would frequently walk past the White House on my lunch hour. There I encountered, as you may today, protestors of various persuasions, all of whom blamed a predictable cast of characters — the President, the CIA, the FBI — for the ills of the world.

After a while, it became part of the summer atmosphere of the District, like the humidity and the tourists. But then one day, out of the blur of figures that had become as familiar as wallpaper, a lone man with a display of photographs caught my eye. “PIGEONS HAVE COPIED OUR BRAINS!” the legend above his pictures read, and I stopped. To say that my life changed with that chance encounter would be an understatement.

I worked for the government, so I had plenty of time to examine his pictures and listen to his tale. It turned out that pigeons had been reproducing human brain waves for years — right under our noses — using nothing more sophisticated than ordinary photocopiers. And nobody was doing anything about it!

I heard the man out, examined his photos, most of which depicted apparently addle-brained humans — the finished product, as it were — and never saw him again.

I returned to Boston and found myself a legal beagle in a large law firm, spending hours in the library doing research. The closest I came to a real-life lawsuit was when one of our clients was named as a defendant in a nuisance suit by a crank. My job was to draft papers to get our client out of the case, but first I was told to call the fellow up and ask him politely if he would consider dropping Acme Amalgamated Fasteners, or whomever, from the suit.

“I can’t,” came the reply. “The voices — they won’t let me alone.”

“Who’s tormenting you?” I asked politely.

“The CIA, the FBI, the Pope, the . . . “

“You’re forgetting somebody,” I said brusquely. Sometimes a forceful intervention can bring a madman back to reality. “Like — pigeons?”


“Yep. I went to the White House and found out it’s actually pigeons who control our brains.”

“Really?” the plaintiff asked.

“Sure — you don’t buy that crap about the CIA and the Pope, do you? That’s exactly what they want you to think!”

“I never liked pigeons. You may be onto something.”

“Sure I’m onto something. I got it from the pigeons themselves!”

“I never knew . . .”

“That’s okay, glad I got to you before it was too late. Now about Acme Amalgamated Fasteners . . .”

I didn’t persuade the man to drop the suit, but the dialogue came back to me today as I walked the streets of Boston and heard the same tired complaint. A disheveled man, talking to himself incoherently, yelled out “It’s the CIA!”

Please — can we finally bury this base canard in the graveyard of lunatic ideas where it belongs? As between the CIA, the FBI, Pope Francis I and pigeons, which is more likely to control your brain? I submit the following:

1. If the CIA controlled your brain, you’d be thinking about dossiers. You don’t know what a dossier is.

2. The CIA has centralized headquarters in Langley, Va. Pigeons operate independently, like franchisees, from a number of convenient locations around the country to better monitor your brain waves.

3. The Pope is too busy writing papal bulls to control your brain.

4. In 1950, King George VI made FBI director J. Edgar Hoover an honorary knight in the Order of the British Empire. They don’t give those things out for trivial stuff like controlling your brain waves — you have to be a cross-dresser.

5. Finally, and most importantly, noted behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner taught pigeons how to play ping-pong. If pigeons have so much free time they can play ping-pong, they have time for really important stuff like controlling your brain!

So there you have it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And if you see a pigeon as you walk through the park today, do yourself a favor.

Throw him a piece of your hot dog roll. You never know what he might do with the stuff he’s got on you.

— 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.

Prosecutor in sideburns ruins my day in court

Charles HartleyThere we were, an eclectic collection of flawed people, listening to a gray-mustached man in a black robe, sporting reading glasses midway down his nose, reading for what seemed like 45 minutes on a flat screen TV. The fact that the TV was not at the front but in the back right side wall was the first disconcerting part of our day.

It was our job to listen. It felt like Judge Judy was talking down to us. It was Mustache’s legal obligation to read all about our rights and obligations and how we were to obey everything he said that day and shut up and do whatever he decided.

We were a local town courthouse awaiting our fates for doing bad things. Why else would be there on a Thursday morning the day before the Fourth of July Holiday?

On the wall next to the TV, where the lawyer kept reading our rights and obligations forever, hung a four-by-six-foot painting of George Washington and his crew in the row boat crossing the Delaware River. Our country’s first leading man stood on the bow staring straight ahead amid the choppy waves, ready to go to battle to save America from itself. At the front of the court room was a circular plaque of the cover of an Olympic Bronze medal with the township emblem inscribed. Near the front stood a police officer who looked like he lifted 400-pound weights every morning for three hours before coming to work. His face was stern, serious and scary, and he had a big black pistol in a holster on his right hip.

And there I sat in the back wondering what how much hazing I was going to endure from a prosecuting attorney and how much money he would insist that I pay for a traffic accident I had with a middle-aged woman a few months ago.

I knew the accident had been her fault. But I also knew the lawyer would try to convince the judge and me that it was my fault. The day was not looking good. I would have rather been at a Rotary Club meeting that didn’t serve food or drinks.

Before my trial began, the policeman told me the attorney wanted to speak with me. He escorted me to a back room to a conference table at which six  people I did not know stared up at me when I came in the door.

The prosecutor wanted to have a word with me outside in the hallway. Whenever a prosecuting attorney wants to pummel you with a pre-trial inquisition, don’t expect a pleasant exchange of ideas. It’s going to be as ugly as a dead slug.

As expected, he launched into me with this: “The woman says that right after the accident you apologized to her. That would suggest to me you thought you were at fault for the accident. Why did you apologize?”

Thinking slowly on my feet, I said I apologized because I felt bad about the accident.

“The damage to her car indicates she didn’t hit you but that you side-swiped her,” he said.

I then remembered that in this situation, having watched “Law and Order” several times, that I had the right to remain silent. Anything I said could be held against me in the court of law.

Not feeling warmed by this guy, I stopped talking. He had long grayish/black sideburns which, in and of themselves, would not have bothered me. But because he was interrogating me and wanted to destroy my integrity, ruin my morning, and take lots of my money and prove to a judge that I am a schmuck, his sideburns bugged me. As thick as a yardstick, they extended to the bottom of his ear and made me want to say something like, “Nice sideburns, you jerk.”

But I didn’t say that. He held the future of my life in his vanilla envelope of evidence he was sure to float in the courtroom to get me squirming and feeling small and confused. Anyone who wants you to feel that way is not your friend.

I had had enough of him and his questions. So I shut him down. No more self-incrimination from me, Sideburns Sharphead.

I went back to the court room and got ready for the trial. When it began, he asked me to tell what had happened.

“I was driving down the road and this woman pulled out and hit me on the right side of my car.”

I demonstrated with my hands how she hit me at a perpendicular angle.

“Did you say perpendicular?” Sideburns asked.

“Yes,” I said. But I then knew where he was going. He was going to try to prove that I had not been hit at a perpendicular angle but something less direct than that and this would prove to the judge I lacked credibility. So I maneuvered my hand to about a 75 or 80 degree angle.

“It was more like this angle.”

“But you just told the court it was a perpendicular angle, which is a direct hit at 90 degrees.”

“It was, I don’t know, about 75 or 80 degrees.”

He had already made me feel like a liar and non-credible witness. This was not going well. I knew it wouldn’t. His sideburns were repulsing me.

My time in the sun continued. He put various photos of the woman’s car in front of me on the table. His goal was to show photos proving that she had not hit me the way I said she had. It was all going wrong. I was losing. Sideburns was killing me. I felt as if I was being punched in the face by a guy who wanted to crunch me into charcoal dust.

Once he was done trashing me, I was told to sit in the back. How many thousands of dollars am I going to have to pay Sideburns once he slam dunks the case against me for lying under oath about the perpendicular thing?

But my mood lifted once the woman started testifying. She reminded me of my experiences reading and/or hearing about Aesop’s Fables. She told the judge about how I swerved into a lane of oncoming traffic and then sped up and sideswiped her after she had made a full turn into my lane and drove down the road some 30 yards. Neither of these things happened. This was confirmed when I saw the cop who wrote the police report after being on the scene at the accident. After testifying about the accident with the same facts I shared, he looked at me with a quizzical look on his face as if to say “What is this woman talking about?”

At this stage I thought about what Sideburns was thinking. At that moment I bet he regretted he took the case because his witness was making up details about distances she traveled before the accident that didn’t make sense mathematically.

She went all perpendicular and no one could follow her train of thought.

Before the judge, the prosecutor’s sideburns were being shaved off. I left the courtroom victorious.

I swear I have told the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

Happy birthday, Mr. Watterson,
wherever you are

Roz WarrenBill Watterson isn’t just the creator of the world’s best comic strip. According to the book Looking for Calvin and Hobbes, a biography of the elusive and reclusive cartoonist, Watterson is also a world-class introvert.

Watterson refuses to make public appearances, give interviews or talk to fans, although he sometimes responds to fan mail and occasionally corresponds or collaborates with fellow cartoonists. Family and friends have been instructed not to reveal where he lives. (For years, he had an unlisted number and lived under his wife’s maiden name.) There’s just one, early, photo of him available to the public. It shows a dorky looking dude seated at a drawing table.

Apparently, Watterson, like J.D. Salinger and  Thomas Pynchon, is one of those very smart, very creative people who just want to be left alone. He doesn’t want to be the life of the party. He doesn’t even want to GO to the party. He wants to stay home and get on with his work.

Fame, for these folks, isn’t a perk. It’s an ordeal.

An introvert is “a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.” Introverts enjoy exploring their own thoughts and feelings. Being with people, even people they are comfortable with, interferes with their desire to be “quietly introspective.“

For instance?

Although Watterson won the Harvey Award for “Best Syndicated Comic Strip” seven years in a row, from 1990-1996, he never once showed up to claim his award and accept the acclaim of his peers. “From most reports and reported anecdotes,” says fellow cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, with affection, “he is most assuredly a serious whack job.”

Or just a serious introvert.

As he worked on the strip, he had no need (and even less desire) to leave the house seeking acclaim or inspiration. Everything he needed was inside his own head.

Watterson, famously, also refused to sell out.

He wouldn’t agree to license or merchandise “Calvin and Hobbes.” When pressured to do so by the syndicate, he threatened to stop drawing the strip altogether. After several years of wrangling, the syndicate backed down and handed control of his creation back to the artist.

About the millions he passed up by refusing to merchandise the strip? “The so-called opportunities I faced,” he once said, “would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things.”

Watterson gave us, in all, a  total of 3,160 “Calvin and Hobbes” strips. He also gave us an instructive example of one way to live, with integrity, a creative life.

“He doesn’t get his kicks from being famous.” his mother once said in an interview. “He was just doing something he enjoyed doing. He definitely wants to disappear.”

Nearly twenty years after that last strip? Mission accomplished! Today, nobody knows where the guy is or what he’s up to.

Nicely done, Mr. Watterson. On behalf of fellow introverts everywhere, I salute you.

— Roz Warren

Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves, A Collection of Library Humor. This piece first appeared on

Love me, love my cat

Allia Zobel Nolan(Allia Zobel Nolan and Nicole Hollander’s newest book, Women Who Still Love Cats Too Much, will be released in September 2015 but is now available for pre-orders. Enjoy this interview with the author to understand her obsession affection for felines.)

Cats are ridiculously popular these days. But it wasn’t always so. When and what got you interested in writing about these feline fur babies?

Truth is though I always had an affinity for cats, my parents were really 
dog people. In fact, my mom really didn’t like cats at all…said they were 
sneaky. Then one Christmas morning, a friend dropped off a box for me. It was large, moved, and had holes in the top. It turned out that inside the box was a white ball of fluff…the cutest white kitten I’d ever seen. I named him Oscar Pooke. Much to her dismay, the tiny fur ball followed Mother around all day and at night, sat in the crook of Dad’s neck while we watched TV. Needless to say, Mother fell in love with him; father fell in love with him, and of course, I was over the moon. I was about 15. Ten cats later, I’m still smitten.

Do you consider yourself a “crazy cat lady?”

You know the stereotypical image of the crazy cat lady is of a spinster, in slovenly clothes, who lives with hordes of cats in a stinky house that looks like a bomb hit it. Other than the messy house, I don’t fit that category. Some may consider my over-the-top treatment of my cats “crazy.” But I believe if you are blessed with the care of an animal, you should do all you can to make it happy and comfortable… cartoon

What is the most bizarre thing you’ve ever done for your cats? 

Well, I don’t consider anything I’ve ever done for my cats “bizarre.” The 
book notwithstanding, others whose involvement with their puddies may not run as deeply as my own, may think I spoil them — what with insisting on fresh, wild caught (never farmed) salmon for their meals, or hiring a vet technician to come in to the house six times a day to make sure they are okay when I’m away for more than two hours. Also, when I’m cuddling my newly rescued baby, Nolan Nolan, I also run my face up and down his fur, imitating the licking gestures a mommy cat makes when she cleans her puddy. I do that because he is under a year old and may be missing being groomed by his birth mom. But I don’t consider any of that “bizarre.” However, I read on the web of some woman who actually “married” her cat. Now, to me, that’s bizarre. That’s like marrying your child.

Does your love for your cat interfere with your love life? 

Well, truthfully, my husband, who is Irish, prefers dogs. However, it’s a matter of the old saying, “love me, love my cat(s).” I really couldn’t spend my life with someone who doesn’t like cats. I’m not saying they have to be ga-ga over them — like I am — but they have to at least understand where I’m coming from. I just lost a cat, Angela Dahling, who had thyroid disease and kidney failure. For two years, I hand-fed her, or arranged for her to be fed, four times a day. She also had to have fluids three times a week and Vitamin B12 shots, and all of this was very time-consuming and costly, both physically and psychologically. And my husband was very understanding of it all. Many wouldn’t be, but then, I wouldn’t be with a person like that.

Can you give us three things women who love cats too much can do to course-correct their lives?

Well, first, many of us (and I include myself in the quotient), don’t want to course correct. Our lives may not be as smooth as they would be if we didn’t love cats too much. But then, surely our lives would not be as fulfilled as they are now. But for those who may consider (however briefly) changing, I would suggest: Be firm when it comes to opening and closing the door for your cat.
 Do it 50 times, and then leave the door ajar. Kitty may learn the mechanics of door-opening, and you’ll have 10, maybe 20, extra minutes in your day. Here’s another thing: Try (and I say try, because you may have to give in) not to feed puddy every time she stands at her feeding bowl starring at you with soulful saucer eyes. Walk away, engage yourself in busy work, build a catio…anything to get your mind off that face. If you can’t stand the silence, though, wait a while before you fill her bowl. This way, she’ll know you are NOT at her beck and call. The third thing is to try (I know it’s difficult) to do more outside the house: volunteer, go shopping, get the mail. If it becomes simply too unbearable, you can always get a video monitor app for your phone to check on them. Course-correcting will not be easy, so take baby steps.

Many people don’t like cats at all. They prefer dogs. In fact, many people think dogs are the superior companion animal. What do you say to that?

Hogwash! I’ve written extensively…books and articles…on why the cat is paws-down above and beyond the dog. For starters, unlike dogs, cat don’t have self-esteem issue. They’re not hyper and aren’t in your face for approval every half-second. They may sit on your computer or book now and again. But that’s only for your benefit — so you don’t feel they’re not paying attention to you. A cat’s breath doesn’t smell like a mixture of a dumpster and an old locker. Cats would never cling to a guest’s leg, nor slobber all over them. Cats wouldn’t dream of rolling in the mud, then jumping all over you. I could go on and on and on. But you get the picture.

— Allia Zobel Nolan

Allia Zobel Nolan is an internationally published, award-winning author of more than 200 children’s and adult trade titles. Her books reflect her two main passions, God and cats, and include such varied titles as Purr More, Hiss Less: Heavenly Lessons I Learned from My Cat, Cat Confessions: A Kitty-Come-Clean Tell-All Book, The Ten Commandments for Little Ones, The Worrywart’s Prayer Book and Whatever: Livin’ the True, Noble, Totally Excellent Life. Her newest book, Women Who Still Love Cats Too Much, will be released in September 2015 but is now available for pre-orders.

Confessions of a reality TV snob

Ann_GreenFor many years I had a rather snooty view of reality TV. Not for me were “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” “American Idol” or “The Bachelorette.” I had better things to do than watch “Big Brother,” “Survivor” or “So You Think You Can Dance?”

Then I joined a gym. Boredom had always been my primary barrier to engaging in regular exercise. Planet Fitness is a low-key place where ordinary folks, an encouraging number with gray hair and imperfect bodies, can exercise while watching TV with handy on-board controls. Some people listen to music while working out; I need the visual.

As I plod on the treadmill, arrayed before me is a vast choice of channels. And when I’m struggling to stay fit, any distraction will do. With the touch of a finger I can channel surf, avoiding commercials, without breaking a stride.

I now look forward to what I used to look down on. I watch “Dr. Phil,” “Judge Judy” and “Hoarders.” As for “Say Yes to the Dress,” the fact that I’m currently planning my daughter’s wedding makes the folks at Kleinfeld Bridal my special pals. Watching parents, bridesmaids, friends and siblings sabotage the bride’s choices makes me feel like I’m doing okay as mother of the bride.

As a fashion illiterate, I can feel a little better about myself while enjoying “Love, Lust or Run.” Between wisecracks, Stacy London mentors women who dress in ripped jeans; loudly printed, skin-seizing leggings; spiked necklaces; skirts up to the stratosphere and underwear on top of their clothes. Not to mention green hair. And this is what they wear to work. I especially enjoy the before and after shots, as Stacy’s protégés emerge stylish and perfectly accessorized.

Before and after shots are also the best parts of “Hoarders,” when the monumental piles of garbage are contrasted with rediscovered and usable living rooms and kitchens. The possibility that these rather pathetic folks might backslide is something I just don’t want to think about. Another great thing about “Hoarders” is that I go home psyched to clean out my house. After one such post-“Hoarders” binge I almost singlehandedly supplied the yard sale at the animal shelter where I volunteer.

If you want to feel better about your life, watch “Dr. Phil.” Uncontrollable teens, husbands who cheat and laugh about it, older relatives who send their lifesavings to Internet con men. I watch and I feel functional. Sometimes, however, it does seem that the good doctor is scraping the bottom of the dysfunctional barrel and exploiting the pitiful. A recent show featured a drug-addled mother whose children and siblings are held captive by her hypochondria and her addictions to pills and bad wigs. Face it, Phil, some cases are hopeless.

Some shows are a treat for very personal reasons. Watching “Wahlbergers” gives me a warm, hometown feeling.  TheWahlberg Family is from Dorchester, Mass., where my father was born and which is a stone’s throw from the city where I grew up. And I just love to hear the Boston accent I worked so hard to get rid of. “Undercover Boss” crescendos with the moment of the big reveal, when the CEO discloses his/her true identity to the shocked employees, then gifts them with scholarships and rent money. Much weeping all around. What’s not to enjoy?

Reality shows are a guilty pleasure. While visiting my niece a while back, I joined her in watching the “Kardashians” for my first time. Her life is hectic, with three small children and a demanding job. Kim and Company relax her. I don’t see the attraction, but then again there are people who are too compassionate to be entertained by other people’s woes, unlike myself.

Still, there are some shows I can’t abide, no matter how impatient I am for my treadmilling to be over with. Sometimes while screen scrolling I pause for a moment on “Naked and Afraid.” After watching two morons test their survival skills au naturel in some snake- infested hell hole, my imagination feels sand in very uncomfortable places. I have to stop myself from hopping off the treadmill and jumping in the shower. The “Real Housewives of Fill-in-the-Blank” are so self-involved it’s hard to see the screen for their egos. For me, cooking shows are, like exercise, boring, thus eliminating “Top Chef,” “Chopped” and “Hell’s Kitchen.”

In the end, binging on reality TV is not just about distraction while putting one foot in front of the other. It’s about feeling that whatever issues I deal with in life, there are people who are worse off than me, and, incredibly, they are okay with the whole world watching. So, I just keep treading, and the schadenfreude keeps me going.

— Ann Green

Ann Green is a freelance writer, editor, PR consultant and tutor.

Dating checks and feeling dated

Pat GardnerPretty often I date checks “1995.” Something will look a bit odd, so I wonder if this is really 1996. I never ask anybody, lest I seem senile.

Today my daughter asked why, when I wrote a note to her at the front of a book — her birthday present — I dated the note “1995.” Not making excuses, I said, “It may be Alzheimer’s. I’m always saying I want to be out of here by 80 to avoid running out of money. Maybe it won’t get as bad as President Reagan’s did.” (I’m almost 68.)  My daughter and her husband laughed.

After my husband and I were in the car, I asked, “Is this 1996?” He said,”No,” I asked, “Then what’s wrong with 1995?” He said, “This is 2015.”

I thought it must be frightening for him to discover my condition. Later, he told he wasn’t scared, that he had recently told the mechanic that our car is a 1966 Ford. Looking at the car, the mechanic said, “I live in the ‘60s myself, but this is pushing it.” The car may be from the early 21st century, but I’m not sure.

It was obvious that my husband and I both favored the 20th century over the 21st.  I wondered how we chose the particular years. In his case, 1966 was the year he was a junior in college. It was a good time to be in college — a time of more passion than our last students, the ones in 2014 — often showed.

At first I thought I knew why I chose 1995. I still believed that my fiction would get published, and my husband and I thought we would find real  academic jobs — not adjunct work but something with a living wage. Then I realized that it was some other year that my fantasies were intact. The year 1995 was, in fact, rather awful.

My daughter is sure that I do not suffer from any cognitive impairment. As she points out, I have been doing such things all of her life.

— Pat Gardner

Pat Gardner has a Ph.D. in English and a tendency to date current checks “1995.” She’s 67 now. In the past, she had a fine time teaching writing classes and reading her comedies at conferences.


Picking a woman who’s right on the money

Barreca,-Gina(This piece first appeared in the Hartford Courant on June 24, 2015. Reposted by permission of author Gina Barreca.)

 America’s been discussing women’s influence on our nation’s history, destiny and character. And we managed to talk about women’s contributions for almost, oh, an entire quarter of an hour until the conversation veered back to men.

Makes you proud, doesn’t it?

The topic under discussion was, “Which women, from U.S. history, might appear on a piece of paper currency?” (Just one piece of paper currency, mind you, one single denomination.) Many men, however, became so distraught at hearing nothing about their accomplishments — for up to three minutes at a stretch — they tried to shut the whole thing down.

Men swiftly reclaimed the conversation with a fierce debate over the merits of the two men on the $20 bill and the $10 bill, respectively.

Not that there aren’t several good reasons for suggesting that Andrew “Trail of Tears” Jackson be ousted from the $20 instead of Alexander “Federalist Papers” Hamilton from the $10 — I’m all for it. But what I noticed is that we’ve shoved the women out of the way so that Jackson and Hamilton can have center stage. The women of American history are now sitting in lawn chairs, drinking cold coffee and wondering whether their time for recognition will come.

But for a while there, we were having a fun, active, interesting conversation about which women might appear on paper money. We know it didn’t work out with the coins. Some of us still have the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea coins sequestered somewhere in a separate compartment, probably in a plastic bag tucked into a drawer, because we’re afraid we’ll mistakenly circulate them as quarters.

Sure, they gave women coins, but they made the coins look as if they were worth one-fourth of their value. Are you shocked?

Yet it seemed as if the country, or the part of it that can make conversation, was having a lively and enthusiastic discussion about putting one woman on one piece of paper money — while still allowing the original owner to keep some real estate on the bill (Hamilton’s image will still be there somewhere). Even Jack Lew, U.S. Treasury secretary, cheered the idea and said merely that the woman had to be representative of American democracy and, by law, no longer living.

You’d think, given those parameters, there’d be a lot of names. You would think that a joyful noise would be made unto the government and that names of women who lived and died for the red, white and blue would be enough to keep us talking until 2020, when the new bill is due to be issued.

Not so much.

Perhaps it’s an unconscious fear of putting women into circulation or the uneasiness some men might feel putting Eleanor Roosevelt directly into their pants pocket.

Or maybe it’s the worry that once women start getting our faces on the money, we’ll want our full share of it, too.

I propose something entirely different: I believe that we should reinvigorate the term “funny money” and endow it with a literal meaning.

You want to represent democracy and embody a trait that’s fiercely defining of the American character? It’s got to be our sense of humor. Mark Twain argued that humor is “the natural friend of human rights and human liberties.”

I want currency with Mae West, Moms Mabley, Totie Fields, Gracie Allen, Dorothy Parker and Erma Bombeck on the bills.

Take Grover Cleveland off the $1,000 and put Gracie Allen on the grand.

Sophie Tucker deserves her own green because she told the truth about money: “From birth to age 18, a girl needs good parents. From 18 to 35, she needs good looks. From 35 to 55, she needs a good personality. From 55 on, she needs good cash.” Put Sophie on the sawbuck.

While not one of these women was among the Founding Fathers (I researched it), all of these women could be called impulsive. As defined by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf in their new book Spinglish, the word “impulsive” is “a handy adjective for disparaging a female colleague who, if she were a man, would be applauded for her ability to make quick decisions.”

Sounds like the definition of an American leader to me.

— 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 and returned to be part of the faculty in 2014. Learn more about Gina here.

Bathroom brawl almost broke my family

Charles HartleyThere are six kids in my family, and I am the youngest. For several years we all lived in the same house. During those years the unspoken and sensible rule was that the six of us were supposed to share two bathrooms located upstairs only a few feet away from each other.

The rule was broken one day when my oldest brother, who was then 16, declared that one of the bathrooms was “his” and that the rest of us had to share the other one.

Yes, he made up a rule that no one was allowed to use his bathroom. Presumably, this meant until he was 18 and went off to college at which point he wouldn’t care anymore who used either bathroom.

He was serious. Two years seemed like a long time at the time.

To the rest of us kids, this, on its face, seemed unfair. Why should five people use one bathroom and one get one to himself? He was the oldest, but that didn’t seem a strong enough reason. Beyond the fairness issue, his declaration struck all of us the same way: slightly if not completely selfish, and slightly if not completely presumptuous, and slightly if not completely combustible enough to tear at the fabric of our family.

It seemed to us as if he was breaking ranks with our unspoken but well understood family code that everyone should be treated fairly and that we all shared in household things equally.

For a while as we digested his new rule, we allowed it to go on. This occurred, I think, because we were reeling that he made such a bold and questionable intra-family maneuver. We didn’t know how to react. The move had to be absorbed and chewed on first.

“OK, well, maybe because he is the oldest, and he does deserve his own bathroom,” we seemed to say to ourselves. At least I did being nine years younger than him.

This was new territory for me, a family shockwave that took me awhile to process. My older siblings, however, had more life experiences. They were able to sense in the deepest crevices of their beings that our older brother had crossed a family red line. He had intentionally garbled the family code.

While he continued shaving, brushing his teeth and showering in his own bathroom for a few weeks, you could sense rumblings of rebellion building in the house among the second- and third-oldest brothers, and oldest- and second-oldest sisters.

Day after day we were having to wait in line to take showers in our one bathroom — “our” bathroom as opposed to “his” bathroom. It was becoming a daily nuisance especially as we saw our oldest brother prance in and out of his any time he pleased.

Plus our bathroom was getting dirtier and more disheveled. What’s more, it wasn’t the prettier bathroom. It had a dark green carpet; his was lively pink. In his bathroom it was easier to be put in a happier mood by the brighter color and the less trampled rug and mushier towels.

My oldest sister, known to have the strongest opinions and principles in all family matters, started calling my oldest brother out more often, seemingly daily, that his decision was wrong on its face.

I seem to recall she raised this point a few times while our whole family ate dinner. And you know who is always at a family dinner: Mom and Dad.

Until this, I don’t think Mom and Dad had been made aware of their oldest son’s dubious behavior. He had been sly, announcing his bathroom to us when Mom and Dad were not around. He may have calculated that they would never find out because he was older and wiser and maybe his younger siblings would buy into his decision. It’s also possible he believed that if Mom and Dad asked him about it, they would agree that because he was the oldest he deserved his own bathroom.

I don’t recall Mom and Dad getting involved in resolving this family spat. But I do remember that the more my oldest sister pointed out the inequity and inhumaneness, the pressure on my brother mounted even though he would not show he was feeling it.

“This is my bathroom,” he would say.

In other words, get out of his bathroom.

Even as a naïve and uneducated seven-year-old, this didn’t sound right to me. And I had not yet experienced much of interpersonal relationships and  self-centeredness. How could it be “his” bathroom, I remember thinking, when he did not own the house? Mom and Dad did. How could it be “his” bathroom just because he told us it was? If he could do that, I could declare the other bathroom “mine” and tell the others to go to the downstairs bathroom. Just declaring something seemed a powerful tool to wield. But how could he think it right and just to have five people lowering the quality of their lives as the quality of his life soared? Why does he get the better life than us?

By then, my second- and third-oldest brothers had become taller than my oldest. So physical intimidation to change his policy may have been a factor in the reversal of this proclamation. But the biggest reason we stopped this madness were the annoyingly well-articulated, prickly, and sometimes unsettling complaints by my oldest sister. She did not see any way around the fact that this bathroom rule was not right. And when she decided something was not right, she was going to let you hear about it and the chances of her changing her mind were zero.

While my oldest brother never relented in claiming “his” bathroom, the rest of us just starting using his bathroom without asking his permission. There were never any arguments or fisticuffs. It just became the rule of the other five kids that we were not going to let Big Brother push us around.

Even as the youngest I remember going in that bathroom when I felt like it and not worrying about my oldest brother ripping on me to get out. I had four other siblings, a Band of Brothers and Sisters, who had my back. Our family feud dissipated.

My oldest brother went to college two years later. Going to college resolves many family issues. And my oldest sister continued to call anybody out in our family who she believed was being unprincipled.

The bathroom situation was a bonding experience for our family, and a blow to my oldest brother. We are all better for it.

To all of them, I declare that this essay is “mine.”

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

Reflections of Erma