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I wish I could blow bubbles again

bub-ble (bub/-l) n. a hollow globe of water or other liquid blown out with air or gas

It’s no wonder my granddaughter loves bubbles so much. Imagine building a hollow globe of liquid soap, and then releasing it into a beautiful summer day to dance but for a few moments on the whispering edges of a warm, sunny breeze. To wonder at its rainbow reflection on a surface so thin and fragile that it’s viewed only for a brief moment.

Oh sure, there’s the occasional bubble that lives far beyond expectations. The one that floats past the tree over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, then it’s slammed by a rogue breeze into a blue flannel shirt on old lady Griffins’ clothesline. You hail it as new World Record holder as you dance with triumph.

This small miracle I have come to take for granted is not lost on her. She dances and laughs with each and every one. Each new bubble is a new friend. Each new bubble has a different character.

Some bubbles are fat and heavy and sit down quick. “They don’t like to dance,” she giggles. “They lose their breath too quick!”

Some bubbles pop as soon as they’re given the breath of life. “Boomers,” she calls them.

Most bubbles linger for a while, dance a bit, blend in with the others and then they’re gone — kind of like most our lives.

But a few bubbles become legends, set to song. She runs into the house and in a sing-song high-pitched soliloquy (some parts only audible to the dog), breathlessly recounts their plight. She starts each story, and here I’m not 100 percent sure but the dog thinks so, with “Guess what?” Then dancing from one foot to the other, she acts out the story of  ”Floaty the Runaway Bubble.”

“I blowed softly for like a real long time.” Pant, pant puff (she always talks like she’s just finished the 100-yard dash). “And then, and then I thought it was going to explode. But it didn’t! It started to go up, and then it went down! And then almost clunked me on the head! And then it just flew over me!” Pant, puff, pant, pant, puff. “Then it almost landed in Charlotte’s pool! Then Scratchy chased it and almost caught it, but then it went up (it’s here you should try to imagine some sort of ballet move that looks like it might hurt because she’s in that position) and just missed Daddy’s basketball hoop, and then, guess what?” (By this time the dog’s howling). “It popped. It just popped and disappeared!”

I watched as my granddaughter danced her story — a story that couldn’t be accurately told without interpretive arm and leg movements. Her constantly moving limbs match her hazel brown eyes that move to even the slightest distraction as she pirouettes around the room. Her black bubble-stained T-shirt could easily be confused for a young girl who managed to flee the clutches of an octopus attack. And her dirty sticky bare feet speak of bubbles that didn’t get away.

And then, as quickly as her story started, guess what? She’s gone! Some invisible rope tied around her waist had yanked her back outside. Slam goes the screen door. “Watch out! Oooh, oooh get up there! Move over! Higher!” sings my granddaughter from the back porch as she directs another batch of newly found friends.

I sit back in my leather recliner and half-heartedly turn my attention back to my wide-screen TV, all 105 channels of it, all available for my personal pleasure 24 hours a day, seven days a week in high definition. And I sit there, envious of the total love my granddaughter has for a sphere that in its simplest form is made from liquid.

Why can’t I love something that much? Oh I love my kids, most of them. And my grandchildren, all of them. But why can’t I obtain the simplest form of pleasure the way she does?

Is it because with age we can’t have love without desire? If I were going to blow a bubble I would think about making it bigger than my granddaughter did to impress her. It would have to go higher and farther and last longer. The desire to blow a better bubble has made it a competition, but only to you, not the child. She still celebrates every bubble.

Or has our understanding of love changed with time? We love our spouses. We look across at them in all their ready-for-bed glory and remember a time not so long ago. Then we go look in the mirror and thank them for staying on. We still love them, but some of the shine is gone.

It’s sad to think I’ll never love something ever again as simple and purely as my granddaughter loves those bubbles.

That kind of innocent love is rewarded to the very young. Remember to celebrate it with them. Color, blow bubbles, take walks, watch cartoons.

That love she has for bubbles is only one tenth of the love she has for you.

— 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.

When is “Bite me!” an appropriate response to a compliment?

Much has been written over the years on how to graciously accept a compliment. We teach our daughters to simply say “Thank you,” instead of automatically becoming self-deprecating (“This old thing? I’ve had it for years”) or coy (“Do you really?”) when someone says “I love your dress.” Personally, I’m still waiting for the day when it’s okay to reply, “You’re right. I look hot in this dress.”  But God forbid we should appear vain or conceited, so we smile and voice some oversight (“But I look better with makeup”), suggesting we left the house that morning hoping, but unsure, that we looked suitable for public viewing.

Over the years (57, if you’re counting), I’ve concluded that many of us are marginally adept at receiving compliments, but woefully abysmal at giving them. We pepper our compliments with qualifiers (“for your age“) or wide-eyed, pseudo-innocence (“Gee, I could never do what you’re doing.”) The kind of statements that you’re taught to respond to with “Thank you,” while your brain is silently replying, “Bite me.”

Assuming you’re not a total male douche and still think “You know what would look good on you, baby? Me” is an acceptable compliment to any female, of any age, ever, or you’re a woman who thinks another woman, barely half-dozen years older than you, loves to be told she “looks just like your mother” (in which case you’re both so lost, I can’t help you), I’m offering up the 10 worst compliments I’ve ever personally received, in hopes of providing a glimpse into what we’re really thinking when we say “Thank you.”

1. “You look fabulous for your age.” What does that mean?? I look great because I don’t look 57? Is 57 a bad thing to look like? If I told you I was 47, would I still look fabulous, or would you be thinking “She’s only 47?? Damn, she looks 10 years older.” And when was the last time you told a 24-year-old that she looked fabulous for her age?

2. “Not many women your age can wear their hair that short.” There’s that pesky qualifier again. “Your age.” STOP THAT.  So now I’m left wondering if you’re saying I shouldn’t either? This is the stepsister compliment to “My husband would never let me cut my hair that short.” What is this, 1956?? Who says “My husband wouldn’t let me…” anymore? I just smile and reply, “Yes, thankfully my hubs has a thing for human Chihuahuas.”

3. (After telling a co-worker I was starting a new diet) “You don’t need to diet. Your husband likes voluptuous women. My hubs likes thin women. But you’re lucky because you don’t have to worry about it.” Ouch. There’s so much wrong with this one, I hardly know where to start. Since you not-so-subtly stated that I’m fortunate because my husband prefers fat women, we’re just going to end our Facebook friendship right now, before this escalates into a public, online brawl, WITH CAPS.

4. “You’re 57? Congratulations.” Huh? Turning 57 is not an achievement or something we get some kind of middle-age trophy for. It just happens. All by itself. Seriously, I never put it on my Life Goals story board, so no congratulations are necessary. If you wouldn’t say it to a 30-year-old, don’t say it to a 50-year-old.

5. “Of course you can still wear a bikini. You’ve earned it. You deserve to flaunt whatever body you’ve got.” “Whatever body I’ve got??” Swell. Now I’m not going to the beach unless I’m wearing a burka. In black. At night.

6. “Older women look better a little heavier.” While this may be true, I’ve yet to meet any woman who likes to be referred to as either “older” or “heavier,” particularly in the same sentence. A double-don’t. (And for the love of God, never substitute “mature” for “older.” You’re likely to be shoved out of the car. While it’s moving.)

7. “I love your white hair. But aren’t you afraid it makes you look older?” No, actually, because that’s what I was going for. 57 seemed so, well…young, so I was going for 70. But thank you for letting me clarify that.

8. “You look great. Where do you get your work done?” Say whut?? This is the equivalent to “When are you due?” to a woman who is not pregnant. The latter suggests she’s either packing around an extra human or she’s simply fat, and the former suggests she couldn’t possibly look that good without a little surgical intervention. Either way, you better hope she’s not your Secret Santa at next year’s office Christmas party.

9. “Great dress. I admire you for still going sleeveless.” That’s okay. It’s a public service. When I raise my arms, the local meteorologist can tell the wind direction and speed by the flapping of my underarms like wind socks on a barn. You’re welcome. Now excuse me while I go get a sweater.

10. (By a saleswoman.) “You’d look great in this dress. And we have a full selection of Spanx on the second floor.” Gee thanks, but since you basically just stated that I’ll have to stuff myself into a toothpaste tube to wear the dress, I think I’ll pass.

So ladies, if we meet on the street, let’s just say “You look fabulous, dahling,” “Oh, so do you,” and leave it at that. And men, if you’re compelled to comment on a woman’s looks, a simple “You’re pretty” (or some similar, straightforward variation thereof) will be less likely to result in her feeling compared to your mother and/or accidentally (oops) spilling her drink in your lap.

Until we meet again. Did I mention you look hot in that dress?

— Vikki Claflin

Oregon writer Vikki Claflin writes the popular humor blog, Laugh Lines. Two recent pieces have been published in Life Well Blogged: Parenting Gag Reels — Hilarious Writes and Wrongs: Take 26.

Scents and sensibility

For nearly three decades, my loyal, intelligent and, let’s face it, masochistic readers have said that I stink. This time, they’re right.

That’s because, in a display of gluttony that did not, unfortunately, take my breath away, I participated in a garlic-eating contest.

This pungent event was the highlight of the Long Island Garlic Festival, which was held recently at Garden of Eve Organic Farm and Market in Riverhead, N.Y.

As about 100 people crammed into a tent to get a whiff of the competition, which should have put the smell of fear in them but instead produced an air redolent with excitement, I stood at a long table with seven other contestants, all of whom could sniff victory and, more important from a dollars-and-scents perspective, the $100 grand prize.

“Did you practice?” asked Vanessa Hagerbaumer, an event planner who was the MC for the contest.

“No,” I said. “I figured nobody would want to come near me. Then again, if I started training this morning, I might have won by default.”

“That would have been a good strategy,” said Vanessa, who introduced the contestants and explained the rules: We would have two minutes to chew and swallow as many cloves of garlic as we could stomach. We could drink water to wash down what we ate. No spitting out or regurgitating garlic during the competition. A clove in the mouth as time ran out would be counted. Garden of Eve would not be responsible if we repulsed loved ones when we got home.

“Ready?” Vanessa said.

The crowd was breathless.

“Set.”

For the last time that day, so was I.

“Go!”

I popped a clove of garlic in my mouth and started chomping. I decided not to waste time by peeling off the husk, part of which got stuck in my teeth. The rest, along with the masticated clove, went down my gullet.

A split second later, I felt like a fire extinguisher had been set off in my mouth. The intense sensation blasted out my nose, eyes and ears. Undeterred, I ate another clove. Then another.

The onlookers, who probably could have used gas masks, were going wild.

Suddenly, it was over. I had inhaled 13 cloves of garlic.

I didn’t even come close to winning. That honor went to defending champion Mark Lucas, a high school art teacher and drama director who gobbled 22 cloves. His secret: “I used the palm of my hand to smash them on the table, then I just swallowed them.”

“I bet your students will pay attention to you tomorrow,” I said.

“If they don’t go home sick,” Mark replied.

His victory last year was not without consequence.

“I went to a party afterward,” Mark said. “A pregnant woman got nauseous, so I had to leave.”

A similar fate awaited me when I got home.

“Whew!” my wife, Sue, exclaimed when I walked in the door. “I could smell you coming.”

She had anticipated my odoriferous condition and bought a lemon, which I sliced and sucked on.

“Any better?” I asked, exhaling toward Sue.

“No!” she cried. “It’s coming out your pores.”

I chewed on some mint from Sue’s garden.

“You still leave a backdraft when you walk by,” she said, fanning her nose with her hand.

Finally, I tried a tomato.

“Tomato juice is used on dogs when they get sprayed by skunks,” I noted.

“Even a skunk would smell better than you do,” said Sue.

The tomato didn’t do the trick, either. What might have helped was $100 worth of breath mints, but since I didn’t win, I couldn’t afford them.

My only consolation was that I got an “I Love Garlic” T-shirt. It was the only thing about me that didn’t stink.

— 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 Newsday and the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, The Empty Nest Chronicles and Leave it to Boomer. He has won four humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month in March 2012. He’s currently a semi-finalist in the 2013 Robert Benchley Society Humor Writing Competition.

Is that a zucchini in your pocket
or are you just glad to see me?

It’s not that I carry a grudge against vegetables, it’s just that the few times I tried veganism (more to save a pig or cow than anything else), I felt hungry all the time.  Maybe I didn’t do it right.

Here’s the thing:  I’m not a “foodie.”  I don’t live to eat, I eat to live. I’m not highly motivated in the kitchen. But if I had someone like Mollie Katzen, author of the 1975 best-selling Moosewood Cookbook, to cater my meals, I’d tackle them with the all the gusto of a grizzly bear.

Better yet, if scientists developed a once-a-day pill you could eat instead of food, I’d be all over that like white on rice. Beige on butter beans.  Green on tea.

This morning, I listened to a radio interview with Mollie about her latest cookbook, The Heart of the PlateVegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.  Hearing her speak about vegetarianism transported me back to December 1978, when I moved from Toledo, Ohio, to Big Sur, Calif., for Esalen Institute’s work-study program.

My work-scholar assignment during the first month was “lodgekeeper,” which included the preparation each evening of a salad for the staff, the work scholars and the “seminarians,” those seekers who came for the seminars, the hot baths and, (in their dreams), lots of sex!

Since the head honcho of the kitchen believed that using a Cuisinart would be spiritually cruel to the vegetables, and since Esalen had no difficulty attracting willing hands to do its sacred manual labor, I got to chop, dice, slice and shred for 150 people every night.

I paid Esalen $325 per month for the privilege of standing on my feet for 32 hours per week in the hot, crowded kitchen where I washed and prepared mounds of organic veggies picked that day from Esalen’s fruitful garden.

At lunch and dinner, I took my position behind the serving line, offering up to the hungry seekers a choice of entrees, either a vegetarian delight or a controversial something-with-a-face.

“Lasagna or pork chop?” I asked Jackie, a long-term member of Esalen’s famed massage crew, who had the scrawny look of a committed vegetarian.

“Lasagna,” she said, narrowing her eyes in contempt as if I had personally gone out and killed the pig.

“Okay, fine,” I said and scooped up what I thought was a rather generous portion, slapped it onto a plate and handed it over to her, expecting a polite “thank you.”  I heard a snort as she skirted away.

This was the first time I became aware that food, other than by its absence, could be a problem, an “issue.”  Midwestern cuisine was, well, not really cuisine but hearty, heavy, sometimes-gummy fare, which we were damn glad to have.  “Pleases” and “thank yous” all around for chipped beef in a glue-like white sauce served over toast (which I later found out the Army dubbed “sh-t-on-a-shingle”), limp, pale iceberg lettuce and my mom’s 24-hour salad of fruit cocktail and cottage cheese mixed up with Kraft’s salad dressing and a dollop of Hellman’s mayonnaise, but just a little because it was expensive.  Refrigerate that mess for 24 hours, and you were on your way to Lutheran heaven.

And we mustn’t forget “lutefisk,” a Swedish Lutheran Christmas delicacy of codfish soaked in lye and served in an oozy white cream sauce.  Makes gefilte fish seem like a gourmet treat.

In spite of an atmosphere of personal freedom and an abundance of tasty comestibles, what seemed to rule the day at Esalen was food fascism.  The vegetarians looked at us carnivores in disgust.  They, in turn, were divided into not-quite-armed camps: The dairy and the non-dairy, each regarding the other as poor relations in need of salvation.

Pale and scrappy though they were, however, the vegetarians were always first across the finish line for seconds at the dessert table. You did not want to get in the way of their sharp pointy elbows.

My yearlong stay only hardened my commitment to food agnosticism.  I now walk a fine line, eating turkey when it suits me, vegetables when I can summon up the courage to prepare them, fruit for dessert.

I do believe that veganism could cure many ills of our planet, but Mollie hasn’t yet answered my pleas to come and cook for me.

Until she does, I’m afraid thousands of vegetables will lie fallow and forlorn in the fields — little lepers begging to be my friends.

So many vegetables, so little time.

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the author of Humor Me! Short Amusing Takes on George Clooney, Fruit Fly Sex, the NSA, Halle Berry, Compassionate Rats and Other Wacky Topics. She won honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition in 2007. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesSan Francisco Chronicle, Pittsburgh-Tribune Review and other publications.

Help! My husband snores and I can’t sleep

“TURN! OVER!!”  I beg for the third time in half an hour. My husband snores like a banshee (not that I’ve ever heard one snore nor have I ever seen one). This time I leave out the “PLEEEEZE.”

“Wha? Huh?”  he groans from somewhere in dreamland, as he shifts his position slightly.

“You’re SNORRRING!”  I wail, irritation thinning my voice after my innumerable fruitless attempts to subdue those snoring sounds — the, interminable, deafening roar!

I finally succeed. Or so I think.  He momentarily emerges from La-la-Land, lifts his head turtle-style and mumbles: “No I’m not!”

No sooner are the words out of his mouth than he falls asleep again, and off he goes: first pianissimo, then building to a grand crescendo, as if to say “I’ll GIVE you snoring!!”

Exasperated and insulted, I nevertheless respond sweetly: “If you weren’t snoring, why on earth would I wake you up to turn over?”

“Beats me!” he mutters accusingly, and off he goes again.

In sheer desperation I grab my pillow and a blanket, stomp my way to the living room and collapse onto the sofa. Eureka!!!  Blissful silence! It’s cramped, but who cares?  It’s quiet!  I position myself carefully so that I don’t once again fall out of this narrow, makeshift bed.

When he wakes up in the morning, fresh as a daisy and full of the joys of spring, he remembers nothing of our little nighttime verbal dispute. Why should he?  He was sleeping all night — I’m the one who spent half the night nudging, cajoling, begging, yelling and poking.

“I have not slept a wink all night!” (A little exaggeration doesn’t hurt). “You were snoring so badly,” I complain, hoping for sympathy — and an admission of guilt. Instead, he turns the tables:

“You snore, too,” he says testily. “But you don’t hear me complaining.”

Excuse me? Now he is trying to make it about me? Nice try! Think again, buddy!

Now don’t get me wrong. I love this man to bits, and we have been together for 27 wonderfully happy years. But his snoring, which only started AFTER I had fallen in love with him and married him, is going to be the death of me.  Isn’t it fascinating how nature hides the ugly side of aging until it’s too late?

Of course, I’m aging flawlessly.

So, if all else fails, I have to ask myself: Whose asinine idea was it that married couples should share a bedroom?

If I’m so modern about the solution, why haven’t I moved to another room? Why haven’t I taken my own advice? Well, I love our nightly cuddle and my body pillow doesn’t quite cut it as a sleeping partner. Then there’s the question of who would get the spacious master bedroom with the en suite. Now there’s a fight waiting to happen.

So here I am, yet again on the cramped sofa, desperate to escape those horrible snoring sounds, and hoping that I don’t end up on the floor.

Hark! I hear the pitter-patter of husband-feet approaching. He leans over to kiss me good morning, but instead of a kiss I hear a click, followed by a series of thunderous, trumpet-like blasts! My eyes spring open in shock. Didn’t I sleep on the sofa to get away from this?

What’s that you say? That’s me?  You recorded me snoring?  How could you?

He singlehandedly exposed my inelegance and imperfections and robbed me of the privilege of being able to point a self-righteous finger.

All that’s left for me now is to patiently wait for a touch of age-related hearing loss.

— Adele Gould

Originally from South Africa, Adele Gould is a retired social worker who’s passionate about writing. Her blog includes several pieces that have been published in the Globe and Mail in Canada. Adele and her second husband, together 27 years, have eight children and four grandchildren between them. Besides a writer, she’s a woodcarver, avid photographer and volunteer.

A letter to my house

Dear Wallpaper,

I know you are cracked, dry and peeling. My intentions were to get you repaired this weekend.  But something rather important has come up. You see, I was approached the other day by a facial guru. And it appears that my skin is also cracked, dry and peeling.

I hesitated before climbing into her chair. I really did. But she insisted I could have a free facial. And who am I to turn down something free?

I thought of you as she applied the “liven up your skin” cleanser, followed by a firming toner, an anti-aging emulsion and a “miracle” moisturizer.

Your condition entered my mind again when she handed me the mini-manual for my daily regiment, along with the “not-so-mini” invoice.

So much for free, right?

And my heart broke for you as I handed her my credit card.  But there is only so much I can spend in one month and so, I’m very sorry, but your anti-aging treatment will have to wait.

Say, for another year or two.

Dear Carpet,

I know you have that stain on the floor. The one I cover up with the ottoman. Well, as it happens, I have an age stain on the side of my face near my ear. I tried to resist another purchase, to no avail.

Before I knew it I had the No Foundation Foundation added to my daily routine.

So, I’m very sorry. But you’ll have to live with that stain for a few more months. Or longer.

Dear Toilet,

I know you have that slight leak.  But I have this tear thing going on with my eye and well, I think you know where I’m going with this.

Thank you all for your understanding,

Love,

Your owner, Janie

PS. Can you please let the front yard know that I’m aware she needs a manicure and trim.  As soon as I get my lady parts looking lovely, I’ll get right on it.

— Janie Emaus

Janie Emaus believes that when the world is falling apart, we’re just one laugh away from putting it together again. She is the author of the time travel romance, Before the After, and the young adult novel, Mercury in Retro Love. She has an essay in the best-selling humor anthology, You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth and is proud have been named a 2013 BlogHer Voice of the Year. To read more of Janie’s humor, you can find her every week In The Powder Room. To learn more about her crazy life, visit her website www.JanieEmaus.com.

Elaine Ambrose

Elaine AmbroseElaine Ambrose’s newly released book, Midlife Cabernet: Life, Love & Laughter After 50, has been described as “an Erma Bombeck-esque tribute to women who are over 50 and ready to explore life on new terms.” It recently won a Silver Medal for Humor from the Independent Book Publisher’s Book Awards Program. She’s the author of nine books, including Menopause Sucks. Her blog, “Midlife Cabernet,” is published on BlogHer.com, ProjectEve.com and her web site. She is the owner of Mill Park Publishing in Eagle, Idaho, organizes writing retreats and has been named a 2014 Woman of the Year by the Idaho Business Review.

Don’t call me Ma’am

There is a single word in the English language that has the power to ruin my whole day.  That word is Ma’am.

I could be having a perfectly fine day — a great day even — the kind of day where my car starts on the first try, my kids get off to school without a ton of screaming and, when I check myself in the mirror I actually think, “Hey, I don’t look half bad.”

Then I stop by the local coffee place and the hipster barista dude, the one who wears the gross earring gauges, hands me my non-fat latte and says, “Here you go, Ma’am.”

Ah, come on.  Really?  Did you have to?

Of course I politely say “Thank you,” back to the little whippersnapper, but in my head I’ve added a very irritated, “Don’t call me Ma’am, d#$%khead.”

Because whenever I hear the term “Ma’am” I feel anger inside me.  No, that’s an understatement. Ma’am makes me feel homicidal.  I realize it’s not healthy.

Ma’am is a slap in the face.  It feels like one day you’re young and turning heads and everyone treats you nicely.  When they talk to you, they call you, “Miss.”

Then suddenly, almost overnight, people start to talk to you like you’re a doddering old fool.  They speak louder.  They over-explain things like they think you can’t understand simple transactions; “Use this stylus to sign your name.  You see it’s like a pen, but it’s not.”  Then they put salt in the wound:  they call you “Ma’am.”

I know it’s vain of me to care.  Obviously I’m in the age range of the Ma’am group.  I’ve had three kids.  I won’t be having any more.  I’m clearly not a young Miss, but I don’t feel like a Ma’am either.

I don’t like that our culture makes this separation with language, especially on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.  One day I’m allowed to stand in the group with the other young and fertile maidens, then the next, “ No, no, no.  You come out of that group and move over here.  You belong with the old and the barren now.  And what are you doing shopping in Forever 21 anyway?  I hope that skirt in your hand is for your granddaughter and not for you . . . Ma’am.”

Men don’t have this issue.  They’re only called “Sir,” end of story.  It’s viewed as a sign of respect.  Even when they’re in their twenties, people don’t say, “Would you like a drink, young dude?”  They say, “Sir,” and it never changes.  When men reach middle-aged, the valet doesn’t suddenly say, “Here are your keys, old man.”  Not if he wants a tip anyway.

I understand that when people use “Ma’am” they intend for it to be a sign of respect, and that the term is more common in other parts of our country.  In fact, a friend from South Carolina once told me that his child got in trouble for saying, “Yes Ma’am,” to his teacher at his new Los Angeles area school.  My friend had to convince the principal that his son was not being smart-mouthed, and was just using the Southern manners they had taught him.

But where I’m from, people only use “Ma’am” for women of a certain age.  I’d feel really silly calling a 20-year-old, “Ma’am.”

At work, we’ve eliminated the distinction between married and unmarried women by using the title Ms. on emails and letters.  I wish we could somehow eliminate the distinction between young and old women when we speak.

There needs to be another option, a term that could be used when speaking to women of all ages — the young, the old and the in-between — regardless of marital status.

I say we ditch both “Miss” and “Ma’am” and for lack of a better idea, bring back the antiquated Victorian term, “M’Lady.”

Isn’t that a nice word, M’Lady?  Any woman could be a M’Lady without feeling insulted because it’s a mixture of Miss and Lady.  It is like you’re addressing both the young misses and the sophisticated older ladies at the same time.  M’Lady is sort of sweet and elegant sounding, too, isn’t it?

I realize that using a different word might feel a little funky at first, but I’m sure over time we’ll get used to it.  Really, all we need is for one rapper to use it in a song and it would instantly become the norm; “I’ll tell you what the sitch’ is, Straight up from McShady, You hangin’ with your bitches, But I’m hangin’ with M’lady.”

I can already imagine how much better my mornings will be, “Here’s your double espresso, M’Lady.”

“Well, thank you, kind sir.  I will see you, and your repulsive earlobe, anon.”

So much better.

— Kristen Hansen Brakeman

Los Angeles essayist and blogger Kristen Hansen Brakeman is currently one of the 12 finalists in the Blogger Idol Competition. Her essays have been published in The Washington Post, Working Mother Magazine, LA Parent, Christian Science Monitor, Orange County Register, as well as guest posts in Ooph, Scary Mommy and the New York Times Parenting blogs. She’s currently searching for an agent for her collection of essays, Where to Dump a Dead Body and Other Life Lessons.

Reflections of Erma