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“That Not Lollobrigida!”

Sunday nights meant only one thing when I was a child: a drive to Lorain, Ohio, with my mother and father, to visit my Sicilian grandmother.

Grandma Monia, my mother’s mother, was a widow who lived in the family home with the youngest of her four children, my unmarried Aunt Helen. Grandma spoke very little English; she had arrived at Ellis Island, as did so many immigrants, early in the 20th century.

An only child, I was the youngest of my cousins. By the time I came along, my grandmother was so hobbled by arthritis and osteoporosis that she was confined to the house, and walked, doubled over, with the help of a cane on wheels. Because of this, her world was small. It contained a window, though: the flickering light of the black-and-white console television that my aunt had bought with her secretarial salary.

Grandma’s two favorite television programs were broadcast on Sunday evening—the Lawrence Welk and Ed Sullivan shows. She rarely commented during these broadcasts (and, truth be told, she could not understand much of the dialogue), but we knew which guests and segments held her interest. She would smile in approval at the harmonizing Lennon Sisters, for example. She would clap with delight at Topo Gigio’s antics; she certainly knew that he was an Italian mouse, and if she couldn’t quite make out what he was saying to Ed Sullivan, she was nevertheless charmed by his sweetness, especially when Mr. Sullivan “keesed” him goodnight.

Acts that were, in her view, less wholesome (dancers gyrating to the Twist, say, or a tad too much cleavage in a female performer’s costume) would elicit a frown or a shake of her head. She might be at a loss for English, but she was still a critic.

One such evening in her living room, with my parents engaged in conversation with my aunt and me preoccupied with my Barbie doll, we were startled by a most unexpected reaction from her. Ed Sullivan was announcing his guests for the evening, and one name filled her with excitement.

“Lollobrigida! Lollobrigida gonna be on!” she exclaimed.

Now you have to understand something about my grandmother. Italy, and all things Italian, reigned supreme in her estimation, and were surpassed only by the Pope, who was, in those days, Italian, too. All of the food that she prepared was Italian, including the bread that she baked twice each week, despite her arthritis; she regularly mailed dollar bills to an Italian orphanage; she loved Perry Como.  She was so biased in favor of her language that she stubbornly refused to learn English, even when her children would beg her: “Ma, please. In English! Say it in English!”

The thought, then, of my grandmother welcoming into her living room the great Gina Lollobrigida, an actress who had brought pride and acclaim to Italy (despite her frequent décolletage, which, for some reason, my grandmother conveniently overlooked), was beyond thrilling. If there had been time, she would have asked Aunt Helen to place an overseas call to the relatives in Palermo, so that she could inform them of the great thing about to happen in America.

So focused were we on Grandma and her reaction that we hardly paid attention to what the estimable host was saying about his guest. We were now, with her, poised for the advent of the glamorous Lollobrigida.

The moment my grandmother had been waiting for had arrived. Ed Sullivan stepped to the microphone and announced:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome my next guest with a warm round of applause—the exciting star of Sea Hunt, Lloyd Bridges.”

And out walked a man in a scuba suit, legs splayed, flippers flapping across the stage.

My grandmother, crestfallen and confused, could only exclaim:

That not Lollobrigida!”

— Marci Rich

Marci Rich blogs at The Midlife Second Wife and The Huffington Post. She won a BlogHer Voices of the Year award in 2012, the same year The Midlife Second Wife was named one of the top seven blogs for women 50-plus by The Huffington Post. This essay was one of five winners on a Facebook contest sponsored by Marlo Thomas. Read about that here.

Playing the dating game

Once upon a time, back when only the top half of Elvis was allowed on TV, there was no Match.com, no Christian Mingle, and no Plentyoffish.com. “Online” didn’t exist, let alone online dating sites to meet prospective marriage material. We selected our potential mates based on whatever was available, usually while still in high school.

We often met the person with whom we’d spend the rest of our lives when a classmate said, “So and So likes you.” After a few years of dating So and So, we’d marry and live happily ever after — or maybe not.

I became a “maybe not” when my marriage of a couple of decades ended. I started dating again a few years after Elvis, both top and bottom halves, went to that Big Graceland in the Sky. Even though society was much looser, there was still no easy way to meet your next mate. “Online” was  barely part of the vernacular. Still, 41 percent of the population was divorced, so there had to be others on the singles scene, and perhaps 15 percent of those were not deranged. Unfortunately, the primary way to meet them was at singles events, events that included drinking and dancing.

I’d never been much of a drinker, and I danced like I was swatting insects. Nevertheless, during my first bar/dance singles evening, I ordered tequila. “Hi there!” I said to the guy on the barstool next to me. “Wanna dance, big guy?”

“Sure thing, pretty lady,” he said. “I’m Elmer, as in Fudd.” He climbed off the stool. His head came up to my chest. When we began to dance, I flailed like a lunatic. Elmer shouted up at me, “You can’t dance.”

I ran to a pay phone and called my ex. “Take me back,” I pleaded.

It took me a while to visit the dance/bar scene again, but the next time I slowly sipped wine, making for a more sophisticated version of myself, which was hard while sobbing. Still, a man tapped me on the shoulder. “Want to dance?” he asked.

“You look familiar,” I told him.

“I’m your veterinarian,” he said.

I stepped on his feet as we swayed, and had no idea what to say. Finally I whispered in his ear, “My dog has diarrhea.”

“Nice to see you, Mrs. H.,” he said, as he backed away. “I hope Wiggles’ stool gets better.”

The next time I ventured out, I didn’t drink at all. In spite of my former disasters, I felt more confident, and was ready when a cuddly looking guy sat next to me. He didn’t drink either, and said he wasn’t much of a dancer. Those two things were potential mate material! Afterward, we went out for coffee. “Where do you live?” I asked, as we sipped our brews.

“Right now, I live in an alcohol rehab facility across the street. As soon as I’m through with the program, I can go back to my wife and kids.”

There were more disasters. I even dated some. One gave me a book of duck stamps for my birthday; another sent a replacement when he was supposed to take me out; another drew smiley faces on restaurant checks.

Not one to give up, I went to more singles dances. One night a cute guy told me I was a good dancer! I figured anyone who thought that would put up with anything. I married him.

We’re living happily ever after. He won’t, however, take me dancing.

— Judi Veoukas

Judi Veoukas is a humor columnist for two weekly newspapers in the Chicago area, the Lake County Journal and the Gurnee Journal and has been published in Funny Times. Her columns have won first place twice as well as second place in the Illinois Press Association contest.

Alligator skin

I have a friend Gail just like Oprah has a friend Gayle.

Their names are spelled differently, but they are the same kind of friends.

They tell us stuff.

Stuff we might not know about life and getting older.

Gail said to me a while ago, “One of the things I hate most about aging is alligator skin.”

I had never even heard of alligator skin.

I had never even thought of my skin EVER resembling an alligator’s.

Later that day, my eyes caught a pattern on the side of my calf.

Something I hadn’t noticed before.

Alligator skin.

Yep.

I did some research.

Not much info.

One blogger suggested: “Hydrate.”

Gail says lotion helps some, but it doesn’t make the alligator skin disappear.

I think she’s right.

Mine seems here to stay.

So I guess it’s time to embrace my patches of alligator skin.

Or perhaps it’s crocodile skin.

Bernard Waber, author of the wonderful picture books about Lyle the Crocodile, died on May 16. Waber created one of the world’s finest literary characters, Lyle the Crocodile.

Lyle is not the type to sit around and grump.

He tackles life with gusto.

Even when the chips are down, you seldom see him frown.

And he seems quite content in his crocodile skin.

I’m going to work hard to be content, too.

After all, alligator/crocodile skin makes us all a bit more like lovable Lyle.

— Barbara Younger

Barbara Younger writers an upbeat, witty blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause and Midlife Roller Coaster. Healthline placed Friend for the Ride on its list of Best Menopause Blogs of 2013.

“Who Rescued Whom?”

You know you’re getting old when you want to slap a young person for saying, “Me and her went to the mall.”  Or when you get riled up because a friend who knows you rescue cats gives you a large paw-print magnet with the words printed on it: “Who Rescued Who?”

You stare at the magnet. It’s cute and thoughtful, but you can’t help hearing your fourth grade teacher Mrs. Meyer’s melodious voice in your head crying, “No, no. It’s supposed to be “Who Rescued Whom? Well, of course it is. What’s this world coming to?

Let’s face it — proper grammar is the last refuge of geezers.

Dammit, we know what’s right!  I may not know how to hack into the NSA computers, but I can diagram the hell out of this sentence.

In my day, a hush of reverence enveloped the diagramming of an English sentence. Why, if you could diagram, you could conquer the world!

Whenever Mrs. Youngberg, my seventh-grade English teacher, sought a volunteer to diagram a particular sentence on the blackboard, I would thrust up my hand and walk quickly to the front of the class.  Grabbing the chalk, my hands a flurry of anticipation, I’d diagram the subject/predicate/noun/verb/adverb/adjective, just like that.  I Am Diagrammer, Hear Me Roar!

In my bones, I know that this is THE right way to understand a sentence, so you can imagine my consternation when Steve, my live-in linguist sweetheart, casually mentions to me over lunch one day that those beloved Reed Kellogg diagrams are passé, that “they don’t represent the language as it really is.”

“Syntactic trees,” he says in his most professorial tone, “are the only way to provide a visual representation of the underlying structure of a sentence.”  He takes a sip of Earl Grey.

“Balderdash!” I cry in churlish response, fiddling with my spoon.

“Well, you can say ‘Balderdash’ all you like, but it’s true.  A syntactic tree shows the hierarchical relationships that take place between the constituents of a sentence. The old diagrams just don’t.”

“What do your poor students think about this?” I say, leaning back in my chair.  Steve teaches in the TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) program at a local university.  Linguistics is one of the required courses.

“They get all nostalgic and defensive about the Old Way,” he says and reaches for a scone.

“Well, of course.  They think they’re special because they were the big dogs of diagramming in their day. But you come along with your fancy-pants syntactic trees and tell them that everything they have believed all their lives is wrong.”

“That’s right,” he says.

“Can’t you see how this undermines their entire world view? I mean, if they were wrong about diagramming, what else might they be wrong about?  It’s too much to bear.”

We stare at each other across the kitchen table.

“They hate you, don’t they?” I say.

“Afraid so.”

“You know what you are?  You’re the Grammatical Anti-Christ!”

“Yes. But what they hate even more is that I have fun with this stuff.”

“Well, then,” I say, standing up and planting my hands on my hips.  “On behalf of all your students, I feel compelled to say:  How ‘bout you take your syntactic trees and shove ‘em, sweetheart. We know what we know, and no one’s going to take our sacred diagrams away from us, you hear?”

Call me juvenile, but someone’s got to hold the line.

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the award-winning author of They Had Me at Meow: Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. In 2007, she won an honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

Not your mother’s book

Editors of the popular Not Your Mother’s Book anthology are looking for submissions for three upcoming books.

Have any fun, hip stories about dieting, dating or menopause?

Consisting of real-life stories written by individuals 18 years and older, NYMB is tailored for a mature-audience readership,” says Dahlynn McKowen, CEO, publisher and creator of Not Your Mother’s Books.

“Stories may contain language and situations akin to a PG-13 or TV-14 rating. While not all stories will fall into this rating system, the series will not focus on death/dying, cry-your-eyes-out sad selections, but only hip, fun, modern and very-much-today-type stories that will entertain our readers.”

See NYMB’s website for answers to frequently asked questions, including copyright, payment and deadlines.

Project Divorcée, season one

Dear Ms. Testwuide,

Congratulations!  You have been selected as a contestant to appear on the inaugural season of Project Divorcée.

Modeling the show after the successful Project Runway series, Executive Producer Heidi Klum has decided to try her recently ringless hand, at a new reality show. Project Divorcée will pit newly divorced women at their lowest point against one another, in order to win a prize package by further losing their dignity.

We have reviewed your audition tape and processed your application. We feel you embody the perfect mixture of bitterness, apathy and vengeance. When combined with your delicate emotional state and raging sugar addiction, you make a perfect reality TV character.

We feel your too-tight-size-14-mom jeans, likelihood of developing Type II diabetes during production and constant collection agency calls for unpaid therapists’ bills will make you a fan favorite from the start.

Your file was missing some paperwork. We require all divorce lawyer’s bills be sent to our offices to authenticate your eligibility.  We recognize shipping is costly. We understand the pure poundage of your legal bills has reduced your transportation options to ground service only. We thank you for chartering a private train to transport these documents.

The winner of Project Divorcée will receive $25,000 for Vaginal Rejuvenation, a Lifestyle Lift , a set of Glamor Shots, a one-year supply of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream created exclusively for our show, Manic Xanax and the complete collection of Lifetime Movies for Women.

Please sign the enclosed documents agreeing to the following:

1. Continue your diet of saturated fats, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugars and any recipes by Paula Deen.

2. Purchase a clean bathrobe as it appears from your audition tape to be your signature wardrobe piece. A robe with shoulder pads, higher slit and no middle zipper may make you more palatable for male viewers.

Unlike Project Runway, contestants for Project Divorcée will be informed of their weekly challenges in advance to schedule therapy sessions as needed.

In the first challenge contestants will be required to delve into their closets for an evening dress that still fits. No bathrobes, please. “Fits” is defined as “zips to top and contestant can breathe.” Once dressed, contestants must attend a couples’ cocktail party solo from 8 p.m. to midnight. You will be judged on your ability to keep a smile on your face, engage in friendly banter and remark “I’m so happy for you,” at least 10 times during the evening. The winner of our first challenge will receive two Ambien and be allowed to spend the next 24 hours in bed.

We look forward to your arrival in Allentown, Penn., for the first season of Project Divorcée.

Sincerely,

Myles Seabrunner and Barton Winkler

Associate Producers, Project Divorcée

— Liesl Testwuide

Liesl Testwuide, author of Hairpin Turns Ahead, uses humor and humility to write about navigating life’s twists, turns and inevitable changes. A divorced mom of three, she has accepted that even though her white-picket-fence life blew up in her face, it was probably the best thing that ever happened. Follow Liesl on FacebookPinterest and Twitter. She auditioned and was selected to read her humorous essay,  ”I’ve Got Something in My Pocket,” at this year’s “Listen to Your Mother” event in Madison, Wisc.

Letter to my 20-year-old self

Dear 20-year-old Lois,

Please go take a cooking class. I know you won’t do it, but see that nice flat stomach you have in the picture? Years of always eating out will turn it into a muffin top (a much cuter name than it deserves, trust me) and result in your children asking what the food man is bringing for dinner every night when you live in Manhattan — a question that often makes people look at them funny. Yes, you have two amazing kids and you will spend 15 blissful years on the Upper East Side of New York but we’re not talking about that right now. Stay on point.

Take a good look at your hair, too, because years from now, you will have no idea what your original color was. Your constant futzing around with it means that you have to squeeze a couple of hours into your schedule every five or six weeks to avoid looking like you’ve given up on life.

Let’s talk about that master’s degree in public relations for a minute. Really? Is that necessary or is it just a good way to avoid a real job for another year and a half? You will hold three PR jobs before you acknowledge you have no interest in pitching stories. You will decide to become a writer because 1) it’s what you’ve wanted to do since you were 12 years old and won that writing contest in American Girl magazine and 2) you want to stay home with your dog. Yes, your dog.

The fact that you grew up with no pets other than a turtle and goldfish, and will end up madly loving, living with and catering to a Chow Chow for 11 years, and a Newfoundland for another 12 years, should offer a major lesson in being open to change and realizing you can’t control everything. (I hate to tell you, you still haven’t fully learned that lesson.)

One of the biggest changes: You will move to San Diego — don’t roll your eyes — and so will Mom and Dad, and so will Sheila and her family. Sure, you swore you’d never leave New York, who leaves New York, who would ever want to live in California, blah blah blah, but it turns out to be one of the best decisions you ever made.

And your complete disinterest in politics? Well, your Facebook friends (forget it, I can’t even begin to explain what Facebook is, but just know that everyone you’ve ever met in your life will be back in touch with you because of it, not to mention a couple of thousand other people) will laugh about that. Three decades from now, a group of ultra-conservative politicians will wage a war against women’s reproductive rights, and you will become a loud, active voice fighting back. And you will win.

The area of your life in which you really win is love and family. You inexplicably knew you would marry Michael the minute you laid eyes on him last year, and you will be as in love with each other 33 years from now as you are today. Your son and daughter, adorable and fun as little kids, will grow into smart, compassionate, generous adults who are your proudest accomplishment — and people you genuinely love spending time with.

Really, the most important advice I can give you is to just say “thank you.”

So, no regrets. Don’t worry about your cooking, your hair, the degree you’re not using. They all brought you to where they are now. And that’s a pretty great place.

Love,

54-year-old Lois

P.S. I’m not sure if this is considered inside trading but if you really want to make a fortune, invest in Tampax because, 43 years after it first started, YOU WILL STILL HAVE YOUR FREAKING PERIOD!

— Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and The Huffington Post. She won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013. After being selected as an Ultimate Viewer by Oprah, she accompanied her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime.

Honest and edgy, with heart and humor

Thank God for girlfriends and shared visits to powder rooms.

That’s always been the concept behind the website InThePowderRoom.com where they’ve been entertaining women with their humor and bold, brave honesty since 2009.

Now they’re taking it to the next level with an anthology of original short stories from some of the wittiest women writers they know — stories they would only tell their closest friends, most likely from within the haven of a ladies’ room.

You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth and Other Things You’ll Only Hear from Your Friends In The Powder Room is edited by Leslie Marinelli, editor-in-chief of In The Powder Room, as well as the creative force behind the riotous blog The Bearded Iris: A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells All. She was named a BlogHer Humor Voice of the Year in 2013 and 2012, and a Babble Top 100 Mom Blogger in 2011.

Besides Marinelli, the book features pieces by six other Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop alumnae (Dawn Weber, Wendi Aarons, Shari Simpson, Alexandra Rosas, Julie Stamper and Su “The Suniverse” ) as well as a recent Humor Writer of the Month, Abby Heugel.

“We are excited to have such a connection with the EBWW community,” said Kim Bongiorno, social media manager for In The Powder Room. ”The book  was the #1 Amazon.com Hot New Release and held steady in the top 10 Best Sellers List in Humor Essays upon publication.”

The anthology includes 39 (mostly) true tales by women, for women, about being women — bodily changes, relationships, careers, motherhood, aging, illness, and more — written with the humor and grit that proudly sets In The Powder Room apart. But be forewarned: these ladies are holding nothing back. They’re revealing their deep dark secrets — because it’s through our most vulnerable and honest moments that we forge the strongest connections and discover we aren’t so alone after all.

They are your friends, sisters, mothers, and daughters. Regardless of what life has dished up for you, chances are, this collection of women has been there and can relate. They’ll help you laugh it off, or hold your hand until you’re ready to laugh again. And they promise: they’ll always tell you when you have lipstick on your teeth.

“It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud when reading, but this book had me cackling,” said Robin O’Bryant, author of Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves.

You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle as well as other formats. Click here for all the ways to order the book.

For a full list of authors and their bios, click here. Most are photographed with — what else? — lipstick on their teeth.

Reflections of Erma