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Animal magnetism

Lee GaitanAnimal magnetism. Some of us have it and some of us don’t. It’s the luck of the draw, and at the risk of sounding immodest, I drew to an inside straight on this one. I’ve got animal magnetism in spades.

In my life, I have been stalked by an amorous pigeon — there were witnesses — mocked by contentious squirrels and had my head pecked by a deranged blackbird. But nothing compares to my first magnetic experience, which occurred when I was a teenager.

Back then, my bedroom was on the second floor and my parents’ was on the first. My older sisters were gone, leaving nervous Nelly me to sleep upstairs alone. One night I awoke with a start to the sound of heavy, plodding footsteps on the roof. Had Santa, weary of battling winter storms, started delivering presents in June, I wondered. The footsteps paced back and forth directly above my bed for several minutes, sounding less like jolly old St. Nick and more like homicidal ex-convict St. Nick with each deliberate step. Completely unnerved, I bolted out of bed and fled to the safety of the first-floor guest room across the hall from my parents.

The next morning, my mother pooh-poohed my fears that a psycho off-season Santa was stomping around on the roof.

“It’s probably a couple of chipmunks,” she said dismissively.

“Yes, Weight Watchers drop-out chipmunks, wearing steel-toed boots,” I replied sarcastically. “It’s clearly an axe murderer, and I am not sleeping up there.”

For the next week, I inhabited my room as usual until bedtime when I would then retire to the security of the downstairs guest room. One evening, well before the witching hour had struck, my parents went out and I sat alone at my bedroom vanity, peering into my Clairol Lighted Make-Up Mirror. Suddenly, I had the eerie feeling that I was not alone. I looked up from the mirror, turned my head and — dun, dun, duuun — came face to face with my stalker, one fat, wiry-haired, particularly unattractive possum. His long, fleshy nose was pressed hard against my window and his beady eyes were trained unflinchingly on me. I stood frozen for a moment and then ran downstairs, screaming like a banshee.

Thus began my summer of terror at the hands — well, paws — of the peeping Tom possum. He not only continued to spy on me and lope around the roof at night, he sought me out in person, once practically hurling himself in front of my car and another time positioning himself between me and my front door. It was horrifying, and I suffered from PTSD (Possum Traumatic Stress Disorder) for quite some time.

Now 40 years later, flashbacks of that disturbing period of my life have returned. The other night my dog Harper was in the backyard when he began barking wildly, frantically, like he’d never barked before. I opened the door and repeatedly commanded him to stop. He not only ignored me, he ramped the barking up a notch. Frustrated, I grabbed a flashlight and went outside to retrieve him. Just as I grabbed hold of his collar, I sensed movement atop the fence behind me. I swung the flashlight around and caught a flash of beady eyes and fleshy nose receding into the darkness. I yanked Harper’s collar and hightailed it back inside the house.

“What was it?” my husband asked as I turned the dead bolt on the back door.

Barely able to speak for shaking, I simply replied, “Well, it was no chipmunk.”

Animal magnetism in spades. Trust me, it’s a hand better left undealt.

— Lee Gaitan

Lee Gaitan is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead and My Pineapples Went to Houston — Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She also has written a chapter in the bestselling book, The Divinity of Dogs. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Better After 50, Mothers Always Write, Midlife Boulevard, Fab Over Fifty and The Good Men Project.  She lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and dog and blogs at Don’t Just Bounce, Bounce Back. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Can bone-munching zombie worms help end childhood obesity?

Con ChapmanLike many children who grew up in the early ’60s, I was exposed to countless hours of television commercials pushing candy, soft drinks and sugary cereals on my impressionable young stomach. As a result, I became — there is no other way to put it — chubby.

The power of advertising was such that a boy who watched enough Howdy Doody or Captain Midnight would develop a craving for confections which, if described to him without the aid of seductive black-and-white imagery, he would reject out of hand as no more appealing than brussel sprouts. Example: Chocolate Coconut Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars. In a word — bleh.

President Kennedy’s national physical fitness program tried to reverse the incoming tide of obesity, but for many it was too late. You got out of school at 3:30, you had homework to do, dinner was at 6, and bedtime was 7:30. What’s a young smart-aleck going to do with that precious hour of free time — play touch football or watch Rocky and Bullwinkle?

The thing that scared me skinny wasn’t one of those stupid faux-French “parcourses” that appeared overnight like mushrooms across America at the height of the physical fitness craze, only to be ignored until they collapsed decades later from the cumulative effect of years of dog pee.

No, what shook me to the marrow of my bones was an eerie tale told by an older sister who was taking high school biology class. Left to cook hamburgers one night when my parents were at bridge club, she put the greyish-brown lump of dead cow flesh down in front of me and proceeded to tell me about tapeworms.

Tapeworms are a human intestinal parasite that can grow to lengths of 30 feet, and can live in the human body for three decades. They have hooks, spiny structures or suckers on their heads. Ask your doctor which is right for you!

As told to me, tapeworms entered the body through undercooked meat, and the only way to lure them out once they got in was to put a pan of warm milk on the victim’s stomach, which would entice the worms to crawl out through the nose. Warm milk is apparently exciting to a tapeworm.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t finish my hamburger that night.

How much of this tale was true, and how much was typical big sister sadism inflicted on a younger sibling, has never been clear to me. But from that night on, vegetables didn’t sound so bad. And except for a brief period after I attained legal drinking age and no longer had to depend on toothless winos to buy me beer, I have kept my weight below recommended maximums.

Which raises the question — could a carefully planned program of widespread panic fueled by hysterical tales of tapeworm infestation solve America’s childhood obesity problem?

One thing is for sure — exercise won’t.

Just try and sign your kid up for an elite junior hockey league that plays 60 games between July 4th and Labor Day and the same schoolmarms who are up in arms about childhood obesity complain about too much emphasis on sports. You can’t win.

The task of scaring kids with tales of tapeworms has been made easier by the discovery of bone-munching zombie worms off the coast of California.  These marine invertebrates have few predators because, frankly speaking, they are some of the most disgusting things alive.

All it would take to end our children’s addiction to fatty meats would be a low-budget health class video that discussed the risk of tapeworms and depicted bone-munching zombie worms wiggling on the ocean floor. Afterwards, teachers would lead class discussion with thought-provoking questions such as ”Do you want your stomach walls to be coated with the suckers of eight-foot giant worms, or do you want to try the salad bar?”

It would mean the beginning of the end of the Big Mac and the Double Whopper with cheese, in much the same way that “Reefer Madness” turned a generation of kids away from marijuana.

— 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.

Does this make me look fat?

Avi Steinfeld“You don’t understand.”

I sat there expressionless. My wife’s probably right. I don’t have a clue. All I know is that I am tired and cranky. Harried and hungry. I need to use the bathroom. Badly. The seat of my pants is beginning to stick to the teak wood bench that is supporting my weary frame and the 14 gift shop bags alongside it. I imagine the plastic sign taped on to the bench as I get up will be saying, “Wet Pant.”

“This black dress with the gold metallic trim along the hem matches the Michael Kors shoes I have at home so much better.”

I certainly am seeing stars. This trip to the mall was a big mistake. My stomach and wallet are simultaneously becoming smaller. The man behind the counter of the Ann Taylor store gives me that “I know what you’re going through” look.

I decide to get a saleswoman involved. There’s no way I’m going to get stuck making the decision. I still want dinner.

“Excuse me, perhaps you can help us out.”

The help “us” is really help “me.”

There must be some reason women ask their husbands to come along shopping with them. Is it the free time that they can spend together? It’s kind of difficult talking to a dressing room curtain. And by the way, is there some reason why they can’t make the doors to these rooms extend to below my knees? Does everyone need to see my tubby thighs? They give you a number card equivalent to the total amount of items that you bring in. They called the tools and hardware department when my wife came in saying they needed to get an address plaque for her. When I entered with my clothes to try on one time, the surly employee smirked and I heard her mutter to her colleague, “That’s never going to fit him. He should try a tablecloth.” I responded, “Keep on counting those hangers, Madam; you might get promoted to the accounting department one day.”

Why do the clothes look so much better on the mannequin than on me? The ones without the heads are not very appealing. Do you think it’s cheaper? I guess some haunted molding company has a bunch of craniums lined up in his warehouse.

I believe that many arguments can be avoided by not accompanying one’s wife shopping. I mean does she really want me to say how I think she looks? Whatever you say, you’re doomed.

“You look great, honey!”

“Clam it, Avi. We’re not going for another hour.”

Or when she says, “This dress makes me look so fat.”

“You’re right, it does make you look … I mean tight-fitted apparel is very in style nowadays.

And when you finally pay for all the items and max out all of your credit cards, she always asks the same question in that familiar tone of voice, “Why did I bother bringing you with me?”

Perhaps the man behind the counter knows.

— Avi Steinfeld

Avi Steinfeld, a Chicago native, is a freelance humor writer with a master’s degree in school psychology. If you want a good  laugh, reach out to him at

Hey, Facebook
Yes, I’m talking to you 2

Paul_Lander1. Hey, Facebook, finally, finally you said I might know someone and I do. I don’t like them, but I actually know them. Congratulations.

2. Hey, Facebook, thanks for thinking I might be friends with Carly Simon. I bet you think that song is about me. Don’t you. Don’t you?

3. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the Jaguar ads. Your faith in my ability to afford one, although misguided, warms my heart.

4. Hey, Facebook, I am not going to redo my yard with drought-friendly plants — I rent!

5. Hey, Facebook, I do not believe that there is a simple way to lose belly fat.

6. Hey, Facebook, I don’t give a sh** about ‘Constipation Clinical Trials.’

7. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the ‘Learn to flip houses’ ads, but I’m thinking, for most of us, a more productive ad would be ‘Learn to flip burgers.’

8. Hey, Facebook algorithm department, I put up a few Caetlyn Jenner posts and I get ads for hormone replacement. Well played.

9. Hey, Facebook, stop asking me if I’m friends with Joey Fatone. Even Justin Timberlake won’t admit to that, why should I?

10. Hey, Facebook, this suggested ad includes you: ‘Toxic Relationships: How To Recognize And Handle Them.’

11. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the reminders to events I’m not going to, by people I do not know, in places I’ve never heard of.

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel 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 stand-up material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in Huff Post Comedy, McSweeney’s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month” in April.

Top 10 things every first-time parent should remember

First-time parents go through a slew of emotions when their first child is born.Regina Due

They feel excitement and a surge of happiness; a sense of hope and clarity about their love towards this child. There are, however other, more anxiety-inducing emotions — the fear of not understanding the needs of the child and anxiousness to be the best parents they can be.

The media often paints a distorted picture of parenting, compelling dads — and mums even more — to be super parents. With this in mind, we have come up with the top 10 things every first-time parent should remember — from safety tips to some reassuring points.

1. Spoiling your child. Unlike what you may have heard, you cannot spoil a child with love. You do so when you give the child a substitute for your attention. It is important to love your child and to show this love, so he will know that there is someone in this world who loves him unconditionally. Moreover, you should not let your child cry for too long. Crying is your baby’s last resort at trying to communicate with you about a discomfort and he should not learn to self-soothe. Responding to his needs will give the child a sense of security that will serve him the rest of his life.

2. Advice. You are not an incompetent parent if you ask for advice. Choose someone you can trust and confide any issues you are facing.

3. Hygiene. Your child’s immune system will get stronger with time but until then, make sure anyone who cradles the child washes their hands and that your child lives in a clean environment.

4. Routine. As baffling as his 2 a.m. wailing might be, you will figure out what his cries mean. More than that, you will ease into a routine in time.

5. Bonding. The physical closeness for a newborn is crucial as it helps create an emotional connection. Try skin-to-skin bonding and make sure you keep your newborn close during the first few days.

6. Safety. Never underestimate how your child can get hurt. Cradle the neck and avoid bouncing or shaking when your child is still a newborn. When he starts to roam around the house, take precautions.

7. Development. Refrain from comparing your child to another because every child develops at his or her natural pace.

8. Nutrition. Obesity will be our children’s biggest issue, so make sure you provide appropriate and the healthiest foods for every stage of his development.

9. Playtime. Incorporate playtime everyday and expose your child to nature. With so many indoor distractions — from televisions to gadgets — it is easy to forget giving your child the chance to interact and play outside.

10. Personal time. Loving your child means being a happy parent. Make time for yourself by doing something you love and go on date nights to reconnect with your spouse. When you are with your baby, wrap him up in a sling and go for a relaxing walk. It is essential for you to get out of the house.

— Regina Due

A parenting writer, Regina Due empowers women through her writing and parenting tips.

All pumped up

Jerry ZezimaI am not much of a couch potato, not only because my wife won’t let me eat potatoes on the couch while watching TV, but because I prefer to drink beer in the lounge chair.

But I am definitely a pump potato. That’s because I am hooked on a channel called Gas Station TV.

I discovered it recently when I went to the gas station and was transfixed by the TVs in the new pumps.

“If I could fit my lounge chair in the car, I’d drive it over here so I could sit in Lane 1 and watch TV all day,” I told Bree, the nice young man at the register.

“There’s only one channel,” he said, “but there’s a lot on it.”

“I know,” I replied. “I just watched the weather forecast — it’s supposed to rain — and I saw a car commercial, which was appropriate. The last time I was here, I watched the entertainment news and the sports update. A guy waiting to get to the pump must have thought I was taking too long because he honked his horn at me.”

The next time I needed gas, I took my own Nielsen ratings by polling viewers.

“I actually do watch TV while I’m pumping gas,” said Mike. “I like the weather, even though I’m outside and I already know what it’s doing.”

“Do you watch TV at home?” I asked.

“Not much,” Mike said. “But I like comedies. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is my favorite.”

“If a sitcom was on TV at the gas station, would you watch it?” I inquired.

“It might take a while,” Mike said, “but my car has a big tank, so maybe I could see the whole show.”

Melanie said she watches the weather.

“I like the news, too,” she added. “It’s nice to know what’s going on in the world. I just saw a report on gas prices.”

This piqued my interest so much that I decided to talk with Violet Ivezaj, vice president of business operations for Gas Station TV, which is headquartered in Detroit. I thought of driving there from my home on Long Island, New York, but I would have used too much gas, so I called her.

“You could have watched a lot of TV on the way out,” said Violet, adding that Gas Station TV started in 2006 at five gas stations in Texas and is now in more than 3,000 stations across the country.

When I told Violet about my ratings poll, she said, “I’m glad people like us. We offer a lot of programming, like ESPN, AccuWeather, CNN and Bloomberg. We’re driven to make pumping gas a good experience.”

“Driven?” I replied. “Nice one.”

“Thank you,” Violet said. “We want to have a positive impact.”

“I don’t think I’d use the word ‘impact’ when talking about cars,” I noted.

“Oops,” she said. “Let me put it this way: Millions of people are all pumped up over us.”

“They must be tankful for Gas Station TV,” I offered.

“Tankful?” Violet replied. “Nice one.”

“Thank you,” I said, adding that I have noticed that GSTV also has advertising for the products sold at gas stations, such as snacks and soda.

“We not only want to be entertaining and informative,” Violet said, “but we want customers to buy merchandise from our clients.”

“Have you ever been on Gas Station TV?” I asked.

“Not yet,” said Violet. “My husband and children think I should be.”

“Maybe you should get an agent,” I suggested.

“You could be on,” Violet said.

“That’s a great idea,” I responded. “If Gas Station TV starts a talk show, I could be the host. I can just imagine the promo: ‘Watch Jerry and get gas.’ ”

— Jerry Zezima

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

Hysteria at haunted farm

Sharon L. CookI’ve never given much thought to seasonal haunted farms, although it’s something I would have loved as a kid. Back then, “horror” consisted of scary movies such as The Fly and The Blob. Because the special effects were primitive, we never saw the entire monster. What we saw was a woman, up close and screaming while a furry tentacle terrorized her.

Thus when I volunteered to accompany a church youth group to Connors Haunted Farm on a Friday night, I didn’t intend to participate. I envisioned eating cider donuts while the young people tramped through the cornfields. In fact, I told the Rev. Stephen, the group’s leader, that I’d recently had spinal surgery. No way could I engage in Zombie Paintball: diving into bushes and crawling through mud while being pelted from all sides.

Likewise the Hysteria Haunted Farm was out of the question. The last scary movie I saw was The Exorcist. It took me forever to get over it. I’ll admit I’ve become a sissy. Goosebumps is now my speed.

It’s too bad I didn’t research Connors Farm’s website beforehand. I would have discovered the Haunted Farm is “not for the faint of heart,” and that participants would tramp through an “authentic 17th century burial ground.” Had I read the back of the ticket, I’d learn that claustrophobics (and pregnant women) were warned not to enter.

Yet tickets had been purchased in advance, and they were not cheap. And after all, I had agreed to chaperone, along with Peter, the church sexton, and Joe, father of the teenage Sophia. I would look like a poor sport if I didn’t participate.

The farm’s haunted attractions are popular. We waited in a long line, our toes and fingers frozen by the chill autumn air. Those who’d paid extra stood in a VIP line and were whisked aboard. We church people persevered: The meek shall inherit the earth, or failing that, a seat on the Zombie Paintball truck.

Once seated, I relaxed when I learned I would be shooting at the zombies and not vice versa. It was fun pelting them as they popped up in the dark woods. I discovered I have good aim. The attraction was more fun than scary. I’d been worrying for nothing. How frightening could the Haunted Farm be?


After waiting in line, our group stepped inside the entrance to Hysteria’s Haunted Farm. Immediately we were plunged into a nightmare involving sound, strobe lights and a kaleidoscope effect. Crossing a rickety wooden bridge, I clutched the rope railing, fearing I’d fall overboard any minute. I couldn’t trust my distorted senses enough to proceed. I held onto the sleeve of teenage Demetri’s sweatshirt. “Don’t leave me!” I yelled above the roaring noise.

Somehow we made it over the bridge, only to be confronted by a bafflingly bizarre room. It was composed entirely of black-and-white checks. Inside was a Spiderman character, wearing a black-and-white checkered body suit. Flashing strobe lights made him appear to be everywhere: above and below us. “He’s in my head!” someone yelled.

What a relief to finally see Peter waiting at the exit. I stepped into the night air, exhaled and said, “Thank God that’s over.”

Immediately a freakish clown appeared at my side. “It’s only just begun,” he cackled, sounding like Vincent Price in The Fly. Unbeknownst to me, he was right. The Haunted Farm was a 40-minute attraction. More horror awaited, including a dank, smelly, cobwebby cellar, where grotesque creatures materialized from the mist.

“Why are they picking on me?” I wailed at one point.

“Because you’re old,” one of the kids said. “They know you’ll scream.”

And scream I did, so much that I was hoarse the following day. Yet in spite of my ordeal, I felt proud to have survived Hysteria’s Haunted Farm. In fact, I encourage other seniors to make the pilgrimage to Danvers. I guarantee it will sharpen — and shake up — your senses. Failing that, there’s always the cider donuts.

— Sharon L. Cook

Sharon L. Cook is author of A Nose for Hanky Panky A Deadly Christmas Carol and the upcoming Laugh ‘til You Die. She writes a humor column for the Salem News. In 2007, she received an honorable mention in the global human interest category of the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

How I came alive

Joty_T_AllisonCivil rights leader Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Everyone I have encountered over my life has told me I was chosen for something great.

Growing up, I battled with what that “something” was. As a child, I spent most of my time organizing rallies in my community and regularly participating in a local radio show that focused on youth empowerment.

As my community involvement continued, I dedicated my life to serving others. In retrospect, what I actually was doing was running from a dark past I had never confronted. At an early age, an older cousin exposed me to sex. Not only did he allow me to watch him have sex with females, he also began forcing me to have sex with him. I was eager for his validation, and I consented. As this dark story unfolded before me, I started desiring him far more than I should.

This infatuation turned into immense hatred after one day he defamed me in the presence of some of my cousins and friends. I felt betrayed by the only male who had ever seemed to care for me. I grew up avoiding thinking about this situation because I had no one to turn to, no one to talk to. Community activism is what I turned to as a way to escape this horrible situation. I feared that if anyone had ever found out about what he did to me, they would never believe me. And to be honest, I did not want anything to happen to him.

My silence began to eat up my insides like flesh-eating bacteria. As I grew older, I had to finally deal with this horrible past.

By doing so, I found out what made me come alive. I found out that there are many other African American young men who have suffered from molestation. Many of them kept silent about it for the same reasons I did.

I came alive when I decided not to hide this story and to commit myself to helping others escape from the same or similar situations. For a long time, I feared talking about this, but by doing so, I have now mentored hundreds of young men making important decisions in their lives.

My question to you, “What will make you come alive?” If you have not answered that question yet, I challenge you to find out. I challenge you to be fearless and zealous.

By answering this question, you will one day help save someone’s life or make a change in the world.

Just as I have come alive, so can you.

— Joty T. Allison

Joty T. Allison, a senior sociology major at Morehouse College, is a motivational speaker and the author of the upcoming book, Strengthen My Sight: Escaping Your Own Prison.

Reflections of Erma