The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

The true meaning of Presidents Day:
Great deals on used cars!

Con ChapmanWhen I was a boy, my mother instilled in me a love of American history.

George Washington was the Father of Our Country, she told me. Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator. Ulysses S. Grant could Drink his Entire Cabinet Under the Table, she said, not stinting on the capital letters. These were the men who made our country great.

But just as many of us who came of age in the ’60s learned that there was a darker side to our nation’s glorious past recounted in history books, I came belatedly to learn that there was a more troubling aspect of Presidents Day, the successor by merger to two Presidential birthdays that fall in the month of February.

The Presidency, it turns out, while a separate and co-equal branch of Our American Government, was formed for the sole purpose of hawking cars!

The sinister purpose of Presidents Day was revealed to me as I worked late into Halloween Night at a troubled car dealership. The company’s creditors were at the door, tax liens had been filed by the IRS, key employees were on the verge of walking out. “If only,” the owner said, “we can make it to Presidents Day.”

A neophyte in the greasy service bays of the Presidency, I cocked my head to one side, puzzled, like a dog hearing a high-pitched sound inaudible to human ears. “Why is that?” I asked, all innocent naivete.

“Because,” the dealer said, his grim countenance showing a faint glimmer of hope, “Presidents Day is when we move the most metal.”

“I see,” I said, and indeed I saw, if only dimly.  The President of the United States, while less than a king, is greater than a commission-based showroom salesman. He is the nation’s Sales-Manager-in-Chief.

As with any conspiracy worthy of the name, the signs were there to see if only you had the key. Take, for example, Washington’s Farewell Address. “No man ever left a nobler political testament,” said Henry Cabot Lodge, who drove a Studebaker. That speech was never actually delivered orally, in much the same manner that you can’t expect a used car salesman to actually read you a vehicle’s repair history. In addition to warnings against the party system and entangling foreign alliances, Washington laid down fundamental principles that car buyers can profit from 214 years later.

“Here, perhaps, I ought to stop,” Washington wrote, after expressing his hope that the administration of every department of the federal government would “be stamped with wisdom and virtue.” The Internal Revenue Service had not yet come into existence. He then offered “sentiments which are the result of much reflection”: “A man is not free who is forced to pay for underbody rust-proofing, but you should always ask a dealer to throw in free floor mats.”

As for Lincoln, bloviators such as Bill Clinton could have learned from his great but succinct expression of deeply felt emotion, The Gettysburg Address. Only 269 words in length, it honors the doleful circumstances of the day while placing them in their larger historical context. “But, in a larger sense,” Lincoln said, “we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow the oil-stained ground on which the decrepit Honda Civic you have offered as trade-in rests.  My sales manager has consecrated it far above its Blue Book value, whose final offer is beyond my poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget the deal that I’m offering you on this low-mileage, one-owner, fully loaded cream puff, which was only driven to church by an agnostic.”

In recent years the United States government was, for the first time in history, the partial owner of a car manufacturer, General Motors, to the tune of approximately $69 billion. Which made President Obama the Sales-Manager-in-Chief, ready to close the deal if you were ready to buy a car — today.

Be sure and get the lifetime power train warranty.

— 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.

Valentine’s Day

I found myself, once again, in the Hallmark store on Feb.Susan Pohlman 13. I have always been a last-minute valentine shopper because I dread it. I can only stomach simple cards that say “I love you.” All of the other valentines in the store are stupid.  With every card I read, I have to add a sarcastic remark in my mind. I can’t leave it alone. It’s very stressful.

After a quarter of a century of marriage, few of the sentiments ring true. I have long considered designing a line of valentine cards that are grouped according to the number of years one has been married.

I long for little ditties like this:

Loving each other has been a long, hard road, but I still think you are cute.
Can’t wait to celebrate our love at Donovan’s Steak house because we got a $150 coupon from your client.
Let’s stay up past 9 p.m. and make out for eight minutes straight.

Love is damn tricky.  An enigma.  So much has been written about it that I dare not add to the rubble. But if I had to, if Cupid put a gun to my head, I would take a thousand noble words and nestle them in pairs with their less-than-noble opposites. Then I would shake them in my cupped hands like dice and toss the whole collection off of Juliet’s balcony and watch them scatter and bounce on the cobblestone streets of Verona until they landed in a mish-mash mural of the language of love. 

“Excuse me,” I said as I reached in front of a young woman who smelled of lavender and innocence. I grabbed a card depicting a romantic table set for two. It unearthed a memory.

My husband, Tim, and I became engaged at Papa Pirozki’s in Atlanta on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Who chooses to propose to his bride in a Russian restaurant on December 7? Looking back, I think he had a subconscious yearning to personalize the Cold War. 

Neither of us expected the marriage proposal to play out the way it did, but maybe that was a good thing. Perhaps it’s the couples who do everything according to the Prince and Princess Handbook who don’t survive when the magic wears thin. In retrospect, I think it was better to start this union with our gloves on, in a boxer’s stance. One needs to understand strategy and battle maneuvers. These are the necessary skills that keep a marriage alive.  Flowers and chocolate are useless.

We were enjoying fruited vodka when a waiter with Ricky Riccardo hair placed a salad before me. It was the ugliest, driest salad I had ever seen so I pushed it to the side. Tim stared at the salad and then back at me. “That’s your salad,” he said.

“There’s no dressing. And what is this stuff? It’s not even lettuce.”

“Have some salad.” His voice held an edge.

“I don’t want the salad.” I calmly stated, the words evenly spaced and heavy on my tongue.

“Eat the salad.” Beads of sweat were forming on his brow.

I answered him with my most powerful defiant stare.

“Eat – the – salad.” His eyes bulged.

“Fine. Relax!” I picked at it with my fork suddenly aware of other diners’ eyes upon me.

Then I saw it hidden under shreds radicchio. No, no, no. Not here. This was not what I had choreographed in my 10-year-old heart as I picked at my chenille bedspread on sleepless nights. I could see our waiter alerting other diners to our impending moment.

“Honey,”  Tim leaned on his elbows. “Stop blinking your eyes like that. Open the box.”

“No. People are watching.” I attempted another defiant stare but tears plopped onto the table.

“Open – the – box.”

I pried opened the velvet cube with my fork and a diamond solitaire caught the candlelight.  I looked at Tim as his lips moved without sound. “Well?” Tim asked with a face so vulnerable and earnest that I suddenly couldn’t imagine a life without him.

“Will you marry me?”


The room ruptured into cheers as Tim handed me another drink and held up his.  We burst into laughter, toasted each other and cheered along. It was not a down-on-one-knee-on-the-beach-at-sunset proposal, nor was the ring magically unveiled on a covered silver dish as he had hoped. It was clumsy, heartfelt and awkwardly expressed the way marriage often looks on a daily basis. In retrospect it was perfect.

“Funny card?” Ms. Lavender commented as I giggled to myself.

“Memories,” I sighed. “But it’s not the one I’ll buy.”

“I love this one,” she confided as she held up a photo of a sunrise that said, Every sunrise means another day of loving you.

“How many years?”

“One.  Well almost,” she said with a shy smile. “You?”


“Wow.  So, what’s the secret?”

I plucked a simple white card with a simple red heart and opened it for her to see. “This is the card I get for him every year. Because after awhile, you learn that these are the only three words that matter.” 

— Susan Pohlman 

Susan Pohlman is a freelance writer, writing instructor/coach and Transformational Travel Retreat leader based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Her memoir Halfway to Each Other was the winner of the Relationships category and runner-up in the Memoir category in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Times, Family Digest, The Family, Raising Arizona Kids, Guideposts Magazine, Homelife Magazine, AZ Parenting, The Review Review, and

Ripping the headlines

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:

Tom Brokaw turned 75
Brian Williams: Me, too!

U.S. job openings reach 14-year high
See what happens when Ryan Seacrest decides to take a few weeks off?

Ex-NFL player Warren Sapp arrested for solicitation
I’m guessing the McDonald’s ‘Pay with Lovin’ defense isn’t going to work here.

Sylvester Stallone announces ‘Rambo 5′
The 5 stands for how many times a night Rambo has to get up and pee.

Surgery on ailing Great Dane yields 43 ½ socks
So, that’s where all those missing socks went.

Apple coming out with the new iWatch
Which is short for iWatchMyMoneyGoDownTheDrainOnUnneededTechCrap.

11 strong signs you’re about to be fired
Number 2: A question mark is placed after your job title on company website.

Neo-Nazis plan ‘monument to the white race’ in North Dakota town
Yup, it should be called Mount Rushmoron.

Preliminary tests show Yale student does not have Ebola
No word if the virus was able to get into its safe school.

America’s most Republican company? It’s Wonderbread
Well, they do sell a lot of white bread.

The planet’s 2nd smartest human reveals ‘50 mind drugs and supplements’ he takes every day
Yeah, but what if smartest human thinks this is a dumb idea?

2-faced cat, Frank and Louie, dies at 15
Ending speculation of a career in politics…

— 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 standup material that’s been performed on Leno, Letterman, Conan, “Last Comic Standing,” etc. His humor pieces have appeared in The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. Now, on to Paul’s time commanding Special Forces in Kandahar…

This valentine is different

Mirna Sabbagh Muslmani This valentine’s season, and for the first valentine’s season ever, I am overjoyed. I know, I know, that this is so cliché.

Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday. I’ve always said that, as I Googled pubs that have anti-valentine themes and a crowd that wants to be as far away from the day as possible. I’d sing “All the Single Ladies” and pop red balloons. I’d preach to my friends, “This ridiculous holiday is made to trick consumers to buy e-cards, watch crappy movies and buy expensive jewelry.”

How could I have been so naïve? What a beautiful celebration. Love should be celebrated. There is nothing as beautiful, or as consuming.

I never knew love could be so grand. Since I’ve met you, the world is brighter and in the singer Feyrouz’s words, the moon is bigger. This particular season, I love everyone. I love looking at dating couples, newlyweds, babies, mothers, lousy chick flicks. Oh, how I’ve changed. You’ve changed me.  I’ve become less rational, and more emotional.

I know most guys wouldn’t like that, but you’re so emotional yourself! I’ve become more caring, and more attentive to everyone’s needs. I’ve become more understanding of tantrums. I now understand that men are not what their exterior portrays them to be. Men, at the end of the day, are just like women. You’ve highlighted an excellent point. Men and women were both little crying babies who need love and attention. How is it that we expect men to be different, and women to need more attention?

That’s not the only way you have changed me. I will say it. You made me love myself more. I love who I have become with you. You’ve given me so much confidence and so much more meaning to life. What else? You’ve also introduced me to the pleasure of early mornings; there’s nothing like the morning with you.

I love you. I love you endlessly. I love you even if you keep me up all night worrying if we’re okay, if you’re happy, if I’m giving you everything you need. I love you even if you don’t love me for a single day in your life.

But I know. Even if you don’t say it. I know that you love me just as much, or at least as much as you possibly can.  I know you love me because of the way you look at me when I enter any room. I know you love me by the way you hug me. I know you love me as you look up into my eyes as you lay on my chest every day.

I’ve never loved so much. Or fell so hard. For the first time, I’m not worried about loving too much or falling too hard. I’m in it, and I just don’t care. If I could love you more, I’d do it.

It didn’t start like that, though.

It wasn’t love at first sight. It wasn’t the sudden chemistry that one would expect given I’m crazy about you now. It was a rough start.

I can still remember you screaming constantly, and me just trying to understand, “What do you want? Tell me what to do.” You kept it to yourself, as if you wanted me to figure it out by myself.

Communication is key, and our communication was definitely not great. You’d make me cry, every single night. “Why are you making this so difficult? Because of you, I’ve changed everything. I’ve changed my looks, my lifestyle, my mindset and everything, just for you. Why? Why can’t you give me any credit?”

I don’t know what I wanted. I just wanted something. Anything. Any form of sign that I was on the right track.

Then, you smiled. Exactly six weeks and two days after I laid my eyes on you the first time. I’ll never forget. I swooned, and I forgot what had passed. Your smile was a sign “you passed, you made it.” That split second changed everything. From that day on, it is as though music plays in the background of my life.

I love you, beyond words and beyond comprehension. The jewelry, dates and flowers will never compare. I know you’re not very expressive, or very romantic, but I think as the years go by, you will learn. I will teach you. You will learn to express, and I will hear it. “I love you.” I will hear it from you, and I’m not sure what I would do then.

This Valentine’s Day, you’re all mine.  I realize, though, that on one of those Valentine’s Days you’re probably going to be with a younger, more beautiful woman who will give you a completely different type of love.

When that day comes, continue to remember me, even with a call. If I’m not there, also please remember me, because no one will ever love you as much as I do. One day you’ll love your valentine as much as I do my valentine, and you’ll say, “That’s what she was talking about.” I hope I’ll be there.

As I look at you, I literally see my heart walking outside my body. Then again, you did come from within me. What else would I expect?

— Mirna Sabbagh Muslmani

Mirna Sabbagh Muslmani is a biologist and a nutritionist, with a strong passion for reading and writing. She writes about nutrition during pregnancy, infancy and toddler years on her website One Thousand Days of Life. She also blogs about her mothering experience and other motherhood-related topics. You can find her blog on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Nostril straws

Laura Grace WeldonI don’t buy straws.

Yeah, I’m cheap, but I prefer to believe I’m making an ethical stand.

Straws have one purpose: to spare us the workout of lifting a drink to our lips while tilting the glass slightly.

Each of these miniature plastic pipes are used for a few minutes, then discarded to burden the environment for decades. I think they should only be sold as medical supplies for people who physically cannot perform the lifting/tilting maneuver.

Naturally, straws fascinate my children. Their grandmother, who thinks I’m an extremist for picking up crying babies and limiting screen time, keeps several jumbo packages of straws in a low cupboard where my children can get them any time they choose. Because she lives with us, that’s all the time.

This afternoon two-year-old Samuel ran full speed from grandma’s cupboard with not one, but two straws.  I might have paused to wonder what lesson on physics my darling could learn while trying to get a drinkable airlock around both straws, but my attention was diverted because this precious child was wearing the straws shoved mightily up his nostrils.

Such behavior might be funny among a certain type in college. Not at home. I picture a fall drastic enough to force the straws up into his frontal lobes. Doctors would shrug sadly and comment on how the child would now be among those who cannot physically perform the lifting/tilting maneuver.

I believe parents can make stuff up if it’s for a good cause. So I grab the straws and say in a melodramatic you-scared-Mama voice, “Oh no!  If you fell, these straws could get stuck in your nose!”

Unconcerned, he countered, “I like to put things up my nose.”

“You do? What things do you put in your nose?”

“I put food in my nose all the time.”

Now I’m thinking major medical. Is he the child I hear snoring at night? Is there a lima bean acting like a flapping valve cover in some inner chamber of his respiratory system? What kind of traumatic scope-down-the-nose emergency room procedure might have to be imposed to discover this?

I ask sweetly, “Why would you put food in your nose?”

He says, “Horses live in my nose. They get hungry.”

Clearly there is a kid rule; they can make stuff up if it’s for a good cause. Anything to avoid hearing mom’s philosophy about straws. I’ll raise a glass to his nose horses as I practice some lifting/tilting maneuvers of my own this evening.

— Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon lives with her straw-deprived family on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose. She is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and a handbook of natural education titled Free Range Learning. Hang out with her online on FB and her blog.

With Deflategate flattened,
Conflategate pumps us up

Charles HartleyBrian Williams, the GQ Magazine cover boy turned NBC News anchors aweigh, admitted this week he “conflated” the truth about whether he was on the U.S. military helicopter that got shot down in the Iraqi War in 2003. By using the word conflated, he conflated the issue further.

Does anyone know what conflate means? It’s like asking if anybody knows the capitol of Peru. When Williams used this word conflate to describe how he embellished the truth, that he was not on the plane shot down but another one that wasn’t, less than 9 percent of American citizens knew what he meant by conflate. The few who knew included syndicated newspaper columnist, George Will; ESPN basketball analyst from the esteemed Duke University, Jay Bilas; and Ryan Fitzpatrick, an NFL quarterback from Harvard University who posted the highest score ever on the IQ test for quarterbacks.

With Deflategate flattened, Conflategate is pumping us up.

In all walks of life, from sea to shining sea, conflation runs rampant — and it is ruinous. When Tom Brady said recently that he knew nothing about the football air pressure being taken out before the AFC title game, everybody knew he was conflating.

When his coach, Bill Belichick, said he knew nothing about the ball-tampering, he sounded like a card-carrying conflator. When Roger Clemens said several years ago that he “misremembered” details about whether he used steroids to help him fire a baseball faster, he could have just said he misconflated. This would not have been misrememberable. The biggest conflation of all time was President Bill Clinton who on worldwide TV pointed at the gaggle of salacious reporters and said: “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky, not a single time.”

Everybody’s guilty of this insidious act. You may not have noticed, but when I write these blogs, I conflate sometimes. In the sports-blogging arena, conflations are table stakes. Speaking of steak, I would love a T-Bone with A1 Sauce right now.

When I gain weight, I conflate. Are you taking the bait? I need a date. When is it time to mate? It is our fate to conflate. Guard the gate. A woman is beautiful if her name is Kate. Kate Upton, we love you. Happy Valentine’s Day.

It took Lance Armstrong telling the lie 898 times that he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs before he finally admitted he conflated. Is lying better or worse than conflating? I don’t know because I haven’t looked up the word’s meaning. For now I’m conflating about the word conflate. Let me tell you, it feels great. Guys named Nate tend to be good basketball players. Remember Nate Tiny Archibald? Dude could ball.

At least lying is a word people understand. Wouldn’t you respect Williams a lot more had he gone on the evening news this week and said, “I lied about being on that chopper. I did it to make myself sound like I was part of a group of brave soldiers. I wanted to position my personal brand as not only a great news anchorman but also a courageous American hero so more women would love me. I lied. I lied. I lied.”

No one ever says they lied. They only admit to conflating, misleading, misremembering and forgetting. The irony is this: everybody lies. I swear I’m not lying. But I might be conflating.

— 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.

Sgt. Tim Cotton

Tim_CottonSgt. Tim Cotton, the author of the police department’s Facebook page in Bangor, Maine, is a storyteller at heart who connects with readers with his amusing musings. Bangor boasts a population of about 33,000, but the department’s Facebook page has attracted more than 100,000 followers — boosted by some recent practical, yet humorous, snowstorm survival tips that went viral. The best advice: Stock up on Cap’t Crunch. Count The Washington Post, Huffington Post and The New York Times among fans. NPR calls the page not your typical police blotter fodder.

Grandfatherly advice

Grandfather Knows BestWhat guy takes his granddaughter to the aquarium and spouts fish puns all day? In Grandfather Knows Best: A Geezer’s Guide To Life, Immaturity, And Learning How To Change Diapers All Over Again, nationally syndicated humorist Jerry Zezima writes about the joys of grandparenthood and the things one man will do for the little girl who has captured his heart. He’s the author of the Leave It to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles and serves as president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Reflections of Erma