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Garbage anxiety, Alaska style

Lois Paige DimensionDidn’t get sleep last night. Not because the sun is up playing all night, and not because of an all-night party next door, but because of the bears. It’s that time of year again, mid-summer, when brown and black bears troll for garbage.

Bears follow any food source, the easier, the better. Homeowners in Alaska know the drill. Be Bear Aware: DON’T FEED THE BEARS!

People post photos on Facebook, to shame homeowners — garbage strewn about driveways and yards, with bears happily munching leftover pizza, or licking beer bottles (Alaska Amber is a favorite among bears — please don’t ask me how I know this).

Seeing these late-night marauders alerted us to action. This is torture for a Not-A-Morning-Person. I dutifully set my alarm for 7 a.m. to: 1) spring out of bed in a stupor, 2) try not to fall down the stairs, 3) try not to yank the door off its hinges because I’m too groggy to unlock it, 4) stumble-fall down more stairs, 5) grope for the garbage container and 6) roll it like a chariot goddess in my pjs over our long-as-the-wall-of-China driveway to the curb, where the truck is usually waiting for me.

Last night I startled awake every 15 minutes: Is the truck here yet? Did I sleep through my alarm? Are the bears chewing on my porch? Are they waiting for me to emerge in my skivvies, so they can have a piece of me?

I flopped back on my pillow, almost asleep, then — the sound of the garbage truck working its way closer sprung me out of bed like a trebuchet. SMACK! Right into the wall. Rubbing my nose, I bawled like a toddler.

“Oh NO, the garbage, the garbage, the GARBAGE!” I yammered and flailed, like it was a 30.5 mag earthquake.

A voice under the covers said, “I took it out.” Guru Man (that’s what I call my husband unit) didn’t think I’d get up (he was right).

We argued about it the night before:

GM: “Just set the container out before bed.”

Me: “No! The bears’ll get it and spread garbage from here to Homer, and Fish and Game will fine us a thousand bucks!”

GM: “It’s a hundred bucks. Wait’ll after midnight, when it’s legal.”

Me: “Facebook said the bears have been showing up at 3 a.m.”

GM: “Then set it out at 4 a.m.”

Me: “Are you inSANE? Bears aren’t idiots, they’ll wait for it.”

GM: “Why do you have garbage anxiety?”

Me, screaming: “I do not have garbage anxiety!”

My morning bed-emerging performance made a liar out of me. Okay, so I freaked out when the truck roared in, thinking I overslept. Who wouldn’t? All day I’ve been a crabby slug from lack of sleep, moping from room to room.

GM: “I think you need closure. Get the empty container and stick it in the garage.”

Me: “I know where I’d like to stick it.”

GM: “You still have garbage anxiety. Bringing in the container will give you closure.”

I plodded down the stairs, out the door, and dragged the container inside the garage. Do I feel better? Why, yes, I do–until next week’s garbage pickup rolls around.

Thank God this only happens once a week. If I were a morning person, it wouldn’t be an issue. But I’m not — and I never will be (she said defiantly).

The bears don’t even care; they don’t appreciate how I suffer, to not offer them a weekly buffet.

Okay yes, I have garbage anxiety (she said begrudgingly). Anyone know of a support group?

— Lois Paige Simenson

Lois Paige Simenson lives in Eagle River, Alaska. She writes for newspapers and magazines, is a playwright and has a blog, The Alaska PhilosophasterShe is working on her debut novel, The Butte Girls Club. She’s been recently published in The Anchorage Press and Memorabilia magazine.


Anne BardsleyI first met 75-year-old, Benjamin, in the kitchen at hospice. I was making my usual Wednesday soup when he wandered in.

He had a great smile and wore a green crocheted cap. He wore the standard Army-brown pajamas. He no sooner arrived, and the dietician followed him for a meeting.

“Ben, what are your favorite foods?” she asked. “I can order anything you like.” He thought for a minute and said, “I like to eat healthy. No sugar. No salt. I need protein and anti-oxidants.”                                                                                               “Ben, you can order anything you like. Do you like lobster?” she asked.

He studied the menu. She handed him a supplement drink to sip. The first thing he did was check the label. “Whoa! Did you see how many carbohydrates are in this drink?” “Ben, it’s all good. You can have this daily,” she counseled. “Daily? Look at the sugar and carbs in here! I am a health nut, for crying out loud. I can’t have this.”

She looked at me confused. Most hospice patients will order foods they love like lobster, steak and fancy desserts. Ben was having none of that. He wanted anti-oxidants and organic food.

He requested extra onions in his soup, extra onions in his omelet. He wanted extra onions in anything and everything. “They’re anti-oxidants,” he told me. I added a five-pound bag of onions to the next shopping list.

My husband, Scott, always visited each room and chatted with the patients and families. He was so happy that Ben was getting a new roommate. “Ben, they’re moving in a roommate for you. You’ll have company now.”

Well, it turned out that the new roommate, Todd, was not a health nut. He rode a Harley. One of his favorite hangouts was Shadracks, a biker bar in Passa Grille on the beach. While Todd preferred a beer and greasy hamburgers, Ben wanted sugar-free, organic food. The two of them became our favorite patients to visit. It was Felix and Oscar from the “Odd Couple” all over again.

It was near Thanksgiving when I asked them if they had a request for something special. Ben shouted out right away, “A pumpkin pie, with no sugar!” This sent Todd into a tirade. His arms were flailing. His face was beet red.

“Oh for the love of God! Will someone get him a damn pie? I can’t stand to hear one more word about sugar-free pie! Every pie they bring him is too sweet for him.”

Ben just smiled. I asked Todd what he would like and he said, “A pumpkin pie to shut Ben up.” And so I found a low-sugar pie and brought it in. Todd thought it was wonderful. Ben thought it was still too sweet.

The following week Ben shocked me by asking for a Butterfinger candy bar. “Ben, you never eat candy.” “I have a craving for a Butterfinger.” The next visit I brought a jumbo-sized Butterfinger for him. I have a picture of him holding it in his hand with a big smile on his face. He ate the entire bar and went to sleep for two full days in sugar shock.

Todd said it was the best two days of his life!

Ben kept me company whenever I volunteered in the kitchen. I loved his smile. I knew it would be difficult for me when his time came. It was actually hard to believe he had cancer because he was such a character. He had a smile for everyone and always made patients and families laugh.

His family came for breakfast that Friday. His sister came running in the kitchen, “Anne! Anne! We have to take Ben to the Tampa airport. He wants to fly.”

We’d learned in training that people will use metaphors at the end of their life. What he was telling her was that his spirit was getting ready to fly soon.

Naturally, his time did come. I went into his room at breakfast to take his usual order: two eggs over easy, whole wheat toast, orange juice and a piece of the French toast bake I made every week. He was half sitting up against his pillow. His eyes were closed and he had a big, old smile on his face. He opened his eyes to say, “Anne, I think I’m getting ready to soar. It is so beautiful there.”

I hate when they leave us and felt the tears sting my eyes.

“I’m going to miss you, Ben. You are one of my favorites here.” I held his hand.

“I’ll miss you, too, Anne. Maybe when I get to Heaven, I can ask God to send you up, too.” He squeezed my hand.

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! “No Ben, not yet, please. I have kids and grandkids I would miss. And who would feed Scott?” He agreed not to ask God to send me up. “I’ll just see when it’s your time,” he grinned at me. I made him promise he wouldn’t ask for my early check-in to Heaven. I was really going to miss this guy.

A few days later, Ben passed in his sleep, peacefully. He’s in Heaven now enjoying sugar-free pudding that supplies his favorite, vitamin D.

I only knew him for a few months, but I keep him on a shelf in my heart.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at Anz World.

Home alone

Jerry ZezimaIf Hollywood wants to make another “Home Alone” movie, this time with the Macaulay Culkin character all grown up but no more mature than he was as an 8-year-old in the 1990 original, I would be happy to take the role.

That’s because I was recently left home alone for the weekend.

My wife, Sue, without whom I would have starved to death long ago, went out of town, leaving me to my own devices. Fortunately, the devices included a corkscrew, if I wanted some wine, and a bottle opener, if I wanted some beer. I had both, though not at the same time because even I know that if you go too crazy on the libations while you are home alone, and happen to lock yourself outside or start a kitchen fire and can’t find the phone to call 911, or realize, as the house burns to the ground, that you forgot to buy marshmallows, there is no one there to help you.

In fact, there is no one there to do anything with you. Dismiss the notion that you will have a wild party. When the cat’s away, the mice will not play. I am a man, not a mouse, and the only creature that kept me any company was our cat, Bernice, who is — I say this with great affection — a total moron.

To make sure I wasn’t bored, Sue left me a list of things to do, including the crucially important chore of watering the garden.

“Did you remember to do that?” she asked when she called, presumably to see if I was still alive.

“Yes,” I told her proudly. “I was so excited, I wet my plants.”

I could hear Sue’s eyes roll in their sockets on the other end of the phone.

Still, I wanted a little time to myself, which wasn’t difficult since I was alone anyway, so I drove into town to buy a cigar.

When I got to the cigar store, I asked the owner, Julio, if his wife had ever left him home alone.

“Yes,” he said.

“What did you do?” I wondered.

“I took out the garbage and watched a lot of sports on TV,” said Julio, who will celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary in October.

“That’s a biggie,” I noted. “Don’t forget it.”

“I did forget our anniversary once and my wife wasn’t happy,” Julio said. “Now I write it down on the calendar. If I forget it again, she might leave me home for good.”

Outside, I met Frank and Denise, who have been married for 28 years.

“Has your wife ever left you home alone?” I asked Frank.

“Once,” he said.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I went to Puerto Rico,” Frank answered.

“What a swell idea!” I exclaimed. “But I don’t have time. My wife will be home tomorrow.”

“Make sure you clean up after yourself,” Denise advised. “You don’t want your wife coming home to a mess.”

“I’ve been making messes for the 37 years we have been married,” I said. “But I’ll try to make sure the house is nice and neat.”

When I got home, I went outside, climbed into a hammock with a beer and a cigar, and enjoyed some quality time with myself.

Afterward, I heard the familiar strains of the neighborhood ice cream truck. I went around front and bought a toasted almond bar from Chris, who has been on the same route since the 1970s.

“Does your wife ever leave you home alone?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Chris, who has been married for 48 years.

“What do you do?” I inquired.

“Eat, work and sleep,” he said. “Some guys fool around.”

“Not me,” I said.

“Me, either,” said Chris, who admitted that he doesn’t do household chores while his wife is away.

“I do,” I said. “In fact, I have to go inside and do them before my wife gets back. But I’ll tell you this: The next time she leaves me home alone, I’m going to Puerto Rico.”

— 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.

Left to our own devices in Devizes

Hillary IbarraI had only one rule on my first overseas trip, and I recited it to my friend Holly obsessively in confronting each new challenge, “Well, you know what I say, don’t you? Ask somebody!”

Not even the cheerless faces and curt responses of most Londoners could make me renounce that rule. I’ve never been afraid to annoy complete strangers, even foreign ones, for my own benefit.

My friend Holly, on the other hand, navigated London like a pro without me a couple times, mapping routes on intricate tube and train maps and finding her way back to my brother’s house twice without asking anyone. So why a simple lock box at our vacation rental in Devizes flummoxed her, I can’t say, but I strongly suspect it had something to do with my corrupting influence.

Our cell phones didn’t work overseas, and the lock box stymied us in a sleepy English town after dusk. There was no one to ask, so I was fresh out of ideas.

Normally when things went wrong, I simply shrugged and quoted my husband’s favorite, “It is what it is!” and Holly responded in her best New Jerseyese, “Fo’get abou’ it.” But we had already had a hard night. The train from London was late, and we had missed the last bus leaving Bath for Devizes. We asked a cabbie how far to that charming canal town famous for a different kind of lock, and he replied, “Oh, about 35 kilometers. Last time I drove there I think the fare was £55.” The train had been £32; the bus cost a mere five! For a minute I contemplated just how bad a 35-kilometer walk could be in decent weather.

Instead, we chose to chuckle with our cabbie about “booking a cottage within walking distance of Bath” as he navigated endless roundabouts through numerous villages. An hour spent, the cab dropped us off at the alley access from our cottage, number 6 “Birdveil” Street, at dusk.

The key was in a lock box by the garden gate. I grabbed a torch hanging on a hook and held it for Holly as she quickly lined up the four-digit code I read off to her. There was a tiny lever to the side that Holly pushed down and released. Then she pulled on the box.


We checked the number, pushed down the lever, pulled….nothing. We reread the skeletal instructions: The key is in the lock box by the back gate. The code is—-. Then we repeated our unsuccessful formula, tugging harder and harder on the impregnable box.

Holly spied another lock box near the back door. We ran to it eagerly.

“I know how to work these!” announced Holly, entering our code. She tried coaxing and then switched to brute force as I looked longingly in the back door like a street urchin from a Dickens novel, tormented by the cottage’s warm interior as I jangled the handle rudely.

Then I exclaimed, “What about that ambulance station across the street? Maybe somebody there can help us!”

The station was deserted, the injured and ill abandoned to the hope that they could hang on until morning.

The time had come to accost the natives. I knocked at number 7. A skinny blond woman cracked the door and looked at us like we were escaped convicts, wild animals or poor circus performers.

I quickly explained our difficulty, and she pointed. “Number 8 knows everything,” she whimpered before slamming the door.

Already 9 p.m., I tried to knock quietly at number 8. The longer we waited, however, the louder I became. Three noisy teenagers came down the quiet street toward us, and I was certain that if Devizes had punks, these three were it. When one cheeky young man waved his hand toward our faces, sensing our discomfort, I said a curt, “Good evening,” with a smile so tight I almost swallowed my teeth.

No. 8 ignored us, and the punks swaggered on; back we went to try new incantations on the demon box.

“Maybe the numbers are out of order,” said Holly. “We need to try different combinations.”

“Yeah,” I rallied. “Maybe the owner’s dyslexic!”

We tried our hand at the obvious switches. Then we took turns desperately yanking on the lock box with both hands and scouting the tiny garden for the softest place to sleep.

Hysteria was creeping in. Forgetting we had no phone, I cried, “Isn’t there somebody we can call? Some emergency number here like a 911?”

Driven mad by failure, Holly shouted back at me, “Not for idiots!”

I doubled over in a fit of laughter that could have awakened no. 8 and made no. 7 pee her pants.

But I quickly sobered up. My rolling baggage thundered as we went down the stone passageway to the street. We gazed down its length. It was like the main drag in an old Western before a shoot-out; the locals were hiding.

Then a door down to the right opened, and out came an unsuspecting lady with a bag of trash. I pounced, and she jumped.

“We’re Americans!” I yelled. “We rented the cottage next door, but we can’t open the lock box, and our cell phones don’t work over here! Please, can you help us?”

“Come in,” she said. “I can’t keep the door open because of the cats.”

A small woman with short gray hair in disarray over her glasses, she introduced herself as Jane and offered me her phone, and I called the cottage owner. No answer. Then Jane brought over a lap top as old as me, warning that you had to keep it steady at a certain angle for the Internet to work. I fumbled with it as Holly tried the owner again.

As I began typing an email I could only pray would be seen by the cottage owner that night, I was shocked to hear Holly, New Jersey accent thick, say into the phone, “Hi, this is Hillary Eye-bar-uh. I rented the brewery cottage from you….”

Now I had called the owner, “Vernie,” two days earlier for access instructions, and I was absolutely certain that Holly and I sounded nothing alike, especially since she had just mispronounced my last name. But when Holly hung up and informed me that Vernie would text no. 8 to let us in, I quickly forgot our duplicity.

After thanking Jane, we went back out to try no. 8 again. We knocked and waited several minutes, but just like the Beatles song, there was no reply.

“We have to go back to Jane’s,” I lamented.

Lady Jane, as we would dub her, took us in.

“Nothing?” she asked. We shook our heads in dejection. “Can I get you some coffee?” she offered kindly. We nodded eagerly. Who cared about sleep if it was to be had in the metal garden chairs of your vacation rental? Better to remain alert to fend off punks and wererabbits!

Jane brought us coffee, and we decided to call Vernie again to our shame. This time I dialed.

“Hello, Vernie, this is Hillary E-barrrr- ah,” I said, rolling the r’s of my Hispanic last name. “No. 8 isn’t answering. We’ve tried the lock box several times, and it won’t open! What are we doing wrong?”

We repeated the code to each other, and then she said, “You just hold down that little lever and pull on the box.”

“At the same time?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Vernie. “Enter the code, press down the lever and pull on the front.”

“At the same time?”


“You push down the lever and pull on the lock box at the same time?”

“Yes!” Vernie cried with exasperation, “Look, Hillary, we’ve had that lock box all year, and we’ve never had a problem…”

“Does one of you want to go try it?” Jane asked when I hung up.

I was designated and rose to do my duty. I closed the door to number 4, walked sideways down the narrow alley that now felt decidedly sinister, and opened the garden gate, trying not to picture myself as the strange victim in some tiny village of an Agatha Christie mystery. I lined up the numbers of the code, held down the lever and pulled mightily.

I reentered number 4 holding up a large, old-fashioned key. Holly guffawed, relief and caffeine making her giddy.

I picked up my coffee, ready to decompress after an hour-and-a-half-long ordeal, and laughingly said to Jane, “You had to hold down the lever and pull! We just didn’t think of it!”

“Well,” said our gracious hostess. “I won’t keep you.”

Able to read simple social cues, we rose and thanked Lady Jane profusely.

Later, as I surveyed the darling living area of our cozy cottage with heightened appreciation and Holly scanned the guest book for mention of “lock box issues,” I abruptly began to laugh again.

“What?” inquired Holly.

“Vernie must think I have a split personality!” I cried.

Ah, well. Vernie will probably never hear from the New Jersey or Arizona “Hillary” ever again. Even if we did wish to rent that precious place a second time, I would be afraid to look it up now:

Because of the need for basic lock box skills, this accommodation not suitable for idiot Americans.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

The long view

Ebook Cover Echoes of Your ChoicesDrawing from the pain and joy of her own life experiences, Sharon Dillon teaches practical methods for living a peaceful and balanced life in her first book, Echoes of Your Choices: Laughter, Peace, and Joy. She’s been a reporter for several newspapers and magazines in Wisconsin and Virginia.

Making fun of the headlines,
so you don’t have to

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:

U.S adds 223,000 jobs in June
Although most of those went to Republicans running for President.

Kim and Kanye announced they’re having a baby boy 
Or, as Kardasian kids are also known…a spinoff.

Soccer’s FIFA board corruption scandal widens
Ironically, they’re using their hands to scoop up all the money.

The number 1 bad habit you need to stop if you want to lose weight
Having pizza while reading articles about weight loss.

Happy World Naked Gardening Day
The perfect time for rakes and hoes to get together.

Bristol Palin was spokesperson for abstinence only birth control 
Look for Donald Trump to be named Ambassador to Mexico.

Kim Kardashian reveals a little too much about her underwear
Shocking. Kim Kardashian wears underwear?

Fox Host: Hillary Clinton ate at Chipotle for ‘Hispanic outreach’
Next, it’s Panda Express to reach out to the Asians.

A website ranks Mississippi as the sluttiest state
Guess you really can get lots of ‘S’ in Mississippi.

Is it ok to leave butter on the kitchen counter?
Since Marlon Brando died, yup.

Republican senator wants restaurant workers not to have to wash their hands after using the bathroom
That’s odd, because most politicians want to wash their hands of everything.

Miley Cyrus: I haven’t had only ‘straight or heterosexual’ relationships
Guess that makes her Bi-ley Cyrus.

— 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” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in 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.


Pigeons have copied our brains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Really?” the plaintiff asked.

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

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

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

“I never knew . . .”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

Prosecutor in sideburns ruins my day in court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you say perpendicular?” Sideburns asked.

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

“It was more like this angle.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Charles Hartley

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

Reflections of Erma