Barb Best, 2010 Erma Bombeck Global Humor Winner, has a new book, Find Your Funny: The Humor Survival Guide for Teens. Co-written with Joanne Jackal, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and former stand-up comedienne, Find Your Funny is a humor survival guide for ages 12 and up. This fun guide is designed to help kids develop a robust sense of humor and empower themselves with the positivity of humor. Larry Wilde, declared “America’s Best Selling Humorist” by The New York Times, calls Find Your Funny, “The quintessential book on the importance of humor in our lives.” No kidding!
We’ve discussed possible plans. I suggested a weekend spent organizing our house. While I believe that one will be vetoed as simply too un-anniversary-like, I’m cool with us not doing it big or giving each other expensive gifts.
I have told him as much, and I believe he would like it notarized.
I don’t blame him. In our dating years, I would have told him this and then expected him to pass my test of getting me a gift anyway. In many different ways, I held him up to a standard of romantic gestures and drama that was unrealistic.
My romantic expectations were shaped by movies and soap operas. As a teen, I had many a daydream where I cast myself in “Sixteen Candles” and enjoyed the romantic gestures (Porsche! cake! panties!) of Jake Ryan. He had to compete with Lloyd Dobler and his boom box. On the small screen, I watched soap operas and pined after a character who was ultimately played by two different actors and killed off at least that many times.
With long-distance dating, my then-boyfriend and I had the opportunity for reunions after separations and weekends where we could essentially shut out the typical day to day. We had our fair share of romantic gestures.
Then we got married.
All of a sudden, we were living not only in the same state but in the same space, and a very small one at that. He realized that I was far messier than I had made myself out to be, and I realized that he wasn’t kidding when he said he was messy. We squabbled and stewed. As our bathroom was arguably the largest and most private space in our apartment, we both found retreat in taking baths.
Ten years later, we have a good marriage. I attribute some of that to us each having our own bathrooms. Beyond that, though, I have learned to appreciate the many small ways that my husband has shown me his love. To name a few:
He puts my toothbrush head in the sanitizer for me.
He doesn’t say anything when I stand at the fridge squirting whipped cream into my mouth (despite my resolution to cut out dairy and sweets).
He makes me bacon.
He set up an extra-large monitor so that I would stop squinting and leaning forward when working on the computer.
I am annoyed by some of the small things he does (e.g., leaving his socks on the floor or burrowed at the foot of the bed), but I’ll soldier on picking up his socks because the small things he does to show me his love outweigh them. I know that there are small things I do that annoy him, too (e.g., insisting on using a steak knife for all cutting and chopping in the kitchen).
While my teenage heart belonged to Jake and Lloyd, my more mature and fuller heart belongs to my husband and our life built on a million small things.
— Christina Liparini
Christina Liparini is a therapist, educator and mother. For 15 years she has treated children and adults coping with anxiety, depression, sexual assault, other traumas, grief, loss, eating issues, career concerns and more. She also has used her counseling background to support the needs of mothers and mothers-to-be.
About a month ago, with husband and kids in tow, I was returning to frigid New Jersey from balmy Palm Beach, Fla. I was already in a funk when a TSA agent pulled me out of an airport security line for “extra screening.”
The agent pointed at me and said, “Palms up.” With my usual smooth eloquence I said, “Huh,” so the TSA agent repeated, “Palms up,” at which point I complied. She swabbed my hands with some device and told me I needed to wait for the results before proceeding. It was neither humiliating nor terrifying but it was, and here’s the understatement of the decade, preposterous.
Security is a serious business. I understand that sometimes it can be inconvenient, intrusive and seemingly arbitrary and really I’m down for all that. In light of the fact that TSA doesn’t know me, I thought I should let them know that when it comes to extra screening they are not only barking up the wrong tree when it comes to me, they are not even in the right forest.
Here are the top five reasons why TSA need never again swab my hands for traces of explosives:
5. As a child, I cried and begged for a chemistry set because I thought it looked like such fun, but when I got one as a gift, I cried all over again because that chemistry set was, without exception, the most disappointing gift I’d ever gotten. It was not even a little fun. You see chemistry has never been my ish, leading inexorably to the conclusion that my fate as a person incapable of making a bomb was sealed long ago.
4. I am a 50-year-old woman whose perpetual state of being is drop-dead exhaustion. Removing my shoes in a security line while standing and at the same time getting my coat off, my electronics out of their cases and onto the conveyer belt and my pockets emptied with people breathing down my neck is the stuff of my nightmares. By the time I’ve done all that, I’m all in. Doing all of the above whilst simultaneously masterminding criminal activity — for goodness sake, I can’t even remember where I packed the toothpaste.
3. I can’t even maintain the simplest lie, so if I was up to no good, would I be waltzing through security without breaking a sweat? When the Israeli security agents for El Al Airlines ask me if I packed my own suitcases, even though I did, I get so nervous I feel like I’m going to vomit.
2. I travel with my children, the very children whom I’ve spent the last 22 years cherishing and nurturing. I take care of every last detail of their lives. From years of sleepless nights, loose braces, badly broken out skin to hellish school projects, I have poured body and soul into these children. I have given them my life’s blood and I can assure the TSA I am most certainly not building explosives and stewarding my children onto an airplane with those explosives. When I decide to take these kids out, they will know it. There will be no ambiguity, and there will be no trace of explosives on my fingers because I will be ripping their hearts out, as any self-respecting Jewish mother would do, not blowing them up on an airplane. Common sense, people, common sense!!!
1. To be perfectly honest, loud noises followed by puffs of smoke terrify me.
TSA, you have my admiration, respect and thanks but you can just go ahead and cross me off the list of people you need to worry about because, trust me, you’ve got bigger fish to fry.
I am not now, nor will I ever be #publicenemynumberoneorevennumbertwo.
— Helene Hirsch Wingens
Helene Hirsch Wingens is a mother of three boys, wife, daughter, sometimes writer and retired lawyer. With 50 in the rear-view mirror, she’s trying to figure out if there’s a second act — and what it is. Her writing can be found online at themid.com, The Forward and Betterafter50.com.
“My legs are so fat,” she reported. She was eight years old then. She had red curly hair, fair skin with freckles, bright blue eyes and a very large spirit. Her parents were the new owners of a shop next to mine. She became my assistant and spent her days in my store. We became good buddies.
Every Saturday I’d bring her a little gift. I found itsy bitsy CD singles. They hooked onto a keychain. By the end of the summer, she looked like a maintenance man carrying her CD clip on a belt loop. I bought her sparkly nail polish, candy and other fun little gifts.
She invited me to her class for Jeopardy Science Day. I felt like royalty. When I arrived at the classroom, her eyes lit up! She introduced me to all her friends. I was smiling really big; I was having so much fun. One little boy ran to get me a chair and the little girls led me to my seat. Elizabeth was not happy about that. Getting me seated was her job! These little kids were so thoughtful. Then her dad arrived and she asked, “What are you doing here? Anne and I are going for ice cream after the contest.” Her dad grinned at me and sat with the boys. The kids kept peeking at me and whispering. I was sure they were saying, “Elizabeth is so lucky to have her for a friend.”
We went for ice cream cones after the contest and sat on the bench. “I really had fun today. Thanks for inviting me,” I said. She took a few more licks of her double-dip cone and said, “I told them about you.” I thought she meant that she hung out with me at my store and we laughed and had fun. “What did you tell them? I asked curiously.
“I told them that you were a really nice lady and my friend. You suffer from menopause and you can’t remember a thing.” I almost choked. That’s why the little boy ran and got me a chair and the girls led me to my chair. They thought I was disabled!
Elizabeth’s parents told me they were her foster care parents and eventually adopted her. This was no secret. I told Elizabeth I was so happy they adopted her. She said, “Yeah. It was pretty tough in foster care. I didn’t like it. When I first went to my parents’ house, they had two St. Bernard dogs so that made it fun.”
A week later we were waiting for customers to arrive when Elizabeth said, “I want to tell you something.” She sat on my lap and said, “When my real dad was very sick, my caseworker took me to see him. I had to find the elevator and his apartment. She gave me a paper with his apartment number, 406. She dropped me off out front and I was only five. She should have come with me! I was so scared. I cried in the elevator. I found 406. I knocked three times before my dad opened the door. When he saw me, he smiled really big and gave me a hug.” She wiped a tear.
“Dad told me that I was a good girl, and it wasn’t my fault that I had to go to foster care. My mom was a drug addict, and he had problems, too, so they couldn’t care for me.” I am now envisioning my sweet Elizabeth being taken from her home, and tears are dripping all over my shirt. I didn’t move to wipe them in fear of breaking the spell. She handed me the tissue box and said, “I never met anyone who cries as much as you do.” I tell her it’s because I have a tender heart and tears are a good thing. She finishes by telling me, “I just wanted to tell you that. I’ve been thinking about telling you. No one else knows.” She handed me more tissues.
Elizabeth’s mom asked if I’d have her overnight so she and her husband could go to a concert. “Well, yes! I’d love to!” She arrived with her backpack, computer, music CD bracelet and a stuffed bear. We made cookies, watched a movie, ate popcorn and she taught me new dance moves. Remember, I have menopause. I am a slow learner. My teenagers rolled laughing at the sight of us.
Elizabeth was not like my kids. She never broke the rules. My store was conveniently located just 15 steps to the ice cream shop. At two in the afternoon, I‘d ask, “Want an ice cream cone?” I told her it kept our bones strong. She always had to get permission to have one. My kids would have hidden behind the counter and eaten it without asking. Besides, who says no to ice cream? I was in line ordering our cones when she arrived to say, “Mom said I won’t eat my dinner. I can’t have one.” I offered to share mine with her. She stood firm. The answer was no.
In time I had to close the store. After 9/11, sales plummeted and I really dreaded closing it. There was no choice; it had to close. I promised Elizabeth we’d stay in touch. I gave her money to keep in her purse. If she ever got stuck, I’d come get her. She giggled and asked, “What if I was in trouble? Then would you come get me?” I poked her in the arm and told her, “Absolutely, I would get you then.” She poked me back.
We never did keep in touch. My life got busy, and our teens were growing. I drove by her house one day, but it was empty. I was hoping we’d go for ice cream and catch up. No one knew where they moved. Their store had also closed.
How do you lose a little girl? She’d been let down so many times, and I let her down again. We moved to Florida and I still tried to find her address to send her a note and a beach T-shirt. I called my old store neighbors, hoping someone might know where they moved, but no one knew. It’s been eight years now, so she’s 16. I wonder what she’s like. I bet she still has that curly red hair, and her blue eyes still sparkle. I pray she still has that huge spirit and lights up rooms when she walks in.
If anyone ever meets a girl matching that description, please ask her if she ever had a friend with menopause named Anne. Please ask her to use the coins in her purse to call me. Tell her I love and miss her — and I won’t lose her again.
— Anne Bardsley
Anne Bardsley is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She’s been featured on Scary Mommy, humorwriters.org, Better Writers After 50, local magazines and more. She barely survived raising five children and is so glad she didn’t strangle them as teenagers. Grandchildren have erased those late night, missed curfew, memories. She lives in St Pete, Fla., with her husband and two spoiled cockapoos.
As I was saying last week at the Mensa meeting, naming a pet is neither brain science nor rocket surgery. Good thing it ainʼt. I rescued an adorable kitten on a cold day last December that I named Petunia Louise in honor of Porky Pigʼs girlfriend.
Well, kids, within a couple of months, it became, shall we say, doubly clear, that Petunia was a male kitten. Did I rename it? Of course not. This is Steve here. Besides, Petunia loves his name. In this age of transgender issues, heʼs considered a really cool cat in some circles.
Being of insane mind and body, Iʼve never subscribed to the pink-and-blue nonsense that defines masculine and feminine. So, I painted the kitten nursery lavender, the same color as my karate belt. (Perhaps heʼd prefer purrrrple).
Androgynous names have always invaded our culture. Iʼm no etymologist of names, but Iʼve heard that the name “Beverly” used to be a male name, and that “Shirley” was also a male moniker until Shirley Temple came onto the scene. If there can be a Marilyn Mason and an Alice Cooper as male rock singers, there can be a male kitten named Petunia Louise Eskew. Maybe thisʼll start a trend for male animals and even male people to be named Petunia. Maybe not. But, when referring to Sylvester, Tweety does not say “I taut I taw a tomcat.” Furthermore, Tweetyʼs own gender itself remains up to question.
Heavens to Betsy, Iʼve been known by some considerably unwanted names myself. For openers, when Mom was pregnant with me, she wanted a girl. She referred to the fetus as “Stella.” Ergo, everyone else referred to me in my fetal state as Stella. With apologies to Johnny Cash, I tell ya, life ainʼt easy for a baby boy whoʼs been known for nine months as Stella.
Trapped in a fantasy world of wishful thinking, Mom clothed me in a “long shirt” and, to this day, she insists that the long-shirt look was all the rage for male infant attire in the mid-20th century. Well, funny thing about those shirts. They all look like dresses.
My brother Dave and our mutual buddy Gabe Thompson verbally ganged up on me once when we were each in our 20s. Referring to my relaxation technique of knitting, Gabe declared that he had never known anyone with more idiosyncrasies than I. I countered his jab by pointing out that, instead of choking someone, I chose to fight stress by knitting.
“And while weʼre discussing my idiosyncrasies,” I said, “hereʼs a news flash: I was never weird until I started hanging out with you guys. Your own weirdness simply rubbed off onto me.” My brother interrupted by saying, “Oh, come on, Stella. Youʼve been weird ever since you posed for your baby pictures wearing a dress.” Both of them laughed their fool heads off.
Stella? Iʼll never know how he first learned about my fetal nickname but, once upon a rainy day in our preteen years, my brat brother and I played cards. He was the self-appointed scorekeeper. Gabe Thompson happened to come in during our game and checked out the score. Gabe looked puzzled and said: “Who the hell is Stella? From that day to this, whenever Gabe sees me from a distance, he does his best imitation of Brandoʼs Stanley Kowalski and screams: “HEY STELLA!” How original.
Let ʻem laugh, but itʼs that nickname that drove me to become a semi-macho man and to seek the coveted lavender belt in karate. Hopefully, Petunia will emerge from the lavender cat nursery as a semi-tough tomcat. Iʼm a little worried now because he seems to be rather effeminate. Oh, heavens to Harry, it just canʼt be the name, can it?
Whatʼs in a name anyway?
Perhaps I should give Petunia a masculine nickname to butch him up a bit. It worked for me. I started calling myself Hunter as a sort of antidote to Stella. I became so masculine that I started writing gonzo journalism and boldly rode with Hellʼs Angels when I wrote a story about them. Due to the danger of such a stunt, I decided not to use my own byline for the article so I used the name Hunter Thompson.
My Mensa name is Steve Martin.
Ah, I just thought of the perfect nickname for Petunia. How about Pinocchio? Now whereʼd that thought come from?
— Steve Eskew
Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.
Recently, I went bra shopping and was surprised at the latest styles. One style was memory foam. Is this really a good idea for the woman who has to lift her breast up off the floor before she puts on her bra? No woman wants to put on a bra and have it fall to the floor for her to step into. A bra should lift them up so no woman walks around hunched over all day. It’s bad for the back.
I have a memory foam mattress, which is great as it draws the invisible line down the bed’s center, keeping hubby on his side of the bed. Memory foam for a bed is good. Memory foam for a bra is not good.
One bra had a tag which read “Funny Shapes Fixed.” Would advertisers be so cruel and heartless to put such a label on a package of men’s underwear?
There was a mother and daughter in the fitting room next to me, and the daughter was trying on bras. I know because I heard the mother using phrases like, “It won’t give much support” and “You need more coverage.” The girl and I emerged from the dressing room at the same time. I looked at her and thought, “She’s young. Memory foam bras were made for her.”
I paid for my bras and the physical support guaranteed and then went home to get emotional support from my husband. Those memory foam bras can leave an emotional scar.
— Cindy Argiento
Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in HumorPress.com “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.
Olivia Michele Giacomini “Miss OMG” has been writing for decades as a journalist, and in more recent years as a “bloggist.” In her new book, she celebrates the humor of life’s mundane events. From battling belly bulge, to mulling over man-scaping, to conquering the nightmarish fear of bathing suit shopping, she proves that you can either find the bright side to the bull crap in life, or at least find the “funny $#!+.”
The indignity was perceived; growing up decades before the introduction of more discreet orthodontia inventions like Invisalign or lingual braces, my only associations were the railroad tracks cemented across the teeth of the poor souls I watched in the lunch room, forced to cut their apples and carrots into miniature pieces and denied such life-affirming foods as popcorn and pizza crust, for the love of God.
I heard horror stories of night braces and orthodontia headgear, specifically designed to drastically lower one’s chances of being recognized as a human person, rather than as a cyborg with hormonal acne. I watched friends slowly drag out their retainers before meals, creating strings of thickly webbed saliva that grew and thinned until they snapped and remained hanging from the device, swaying in the breeze precariously until wiped away.
There was no uncertainty about the pain of braces, however, which was made exceedingly evident to me through the tribulations of my younger sister. Deemed orthodontia-ready by the age of 15, she was forced to endure years of what resembled tiny barbed wire fencing around the expanse of each tooth, and I wondered if it was painful to close her tiny lips over them, for fear of ripping right through the flesh. On several occasions, I had the misfortune of accompanying her to the orthodontist’s office to have her braces tightened, a fairly barbaric process that seemed to me not unlike the medieval method of thumbscrews, but on one’s gums. While I gratefully stayed behind in the waiting room, she disappeared behind the door of what was surely a dungeon torture chamber, which I ascertained from the sounds of metal scraping, gear grinding and anguished human screams that emanated from within. My sister, who typically practiced respect and deference to adults, could be heard issuing forth a steady stream of obscenities, threats and general terror toward her doctor, which included promises of making future appointments with him in hell. At the end of the visit, I couldn’t tell who was more upset, my sister or the orthodontist.
Although it was gratifying to evade this brief phase of oral shackling — which surely would have compounded all the other anguish and agony of my adolescence — I was disappointed to discover a by-product of growing in my teeth naturally. A fairly sizable gap between my two top incisors. As a child, the only bother it bore me was an interesting sucking noise that occurred while I drank from a cup, but as I grew older and began placing more importance on my physical appearance, I couldn’t help comparing my mirrored image to a beaver or the Easter Bunny. I would stare at my visage while chewing on a piece of Chiclet’s gum, eventually forcing it with my tongue in between the empty space in my teeth to create the illusion of the missing enamel and think about what might have been.
Ever conscious of my gap, I tried to remember to always keep my lips closed while having my picture taken. Still, there are several pieces of photographic evidence from various school yearbooks that document an unintentional toothy smile with my front teeth dipping below my lips like the tiniest of sawed-off vampire fangs. Not the Twilight kind, but the Nosferatu kind.
As a bespectacled teenager working alongside several (slightly) older men at a bookstore in the local mall, I was introduced to the fairly absurd concept of my gap being a badge of sexual prowess. “Gaps are sexy,” I was told. But, the revelation was delivered more in the way of “I’m telling you that because you are somewhat nerdy and I hope it brings you genuine comfort,” rather than “And, now I will ask for your phone number.”
Still the idea of my diastema — the technical word for a space between two teeth — being a help rather than a hindrance to my overall appearance grew on me. After all, Chaucer wrote of “the gap-toothed wife of Bath” because of the connection of the physical characteristic with lustful tendencies, a popular premise at the time. Several African cultures associate gapped-tooth women with increased fertility, and cosmetic procedures to create a gap are common. And, in France, they are called “dents du bonheur” or “lucky teeth.” Perhaps it was finally time to “embrace my space.”
As an adult, I have more or less come to terms with my gap, though my thoughts on its allure vary depending on which gap-toothed celebrity I am told my mouth resembles. Madonna and Lauren Hutton, I’m fine with, but I was a bit more distraught at a recent comparison to Lawrence Fishburne.
Ironically, gapped teeth are currently having a moment. I can’t turn several pages of any fashion magazine without coming face-to-face with an advertisement featuring a close-up of a gap-toothed model, eyelids heavy and lips slightly parted so as not to miss the dark section of nothingness between her two front teeth. Regardless of the product being promoted — from eyeliner to dog food to lawn mowers — such a facial expression is necessary to bring prominent exposure to the gap, a clause no doubt written into her contract.
I am still routinely wooed by dentists who promise to “fix” me.
“You know it’s going to keep growing, don’t you?” one dentist intoned ominously at a recent appointment, “The space, I mean.”
“Really?” I wondered how big it could actually get before becoming a small window into the inner workings of my mastication process for the entire world to see.
“Don’t you change a thing, sweetie!” his dental hygienist clucked, “That space gives you character.”
Being told my gap gives me “character,” which is often used as a synonym for “unattractive,” routinely makes me question my lifelong commitment to accepting it as my fate. Still, as I grow older and watch various parts of my face and body change and evolve, what remains the same (albeit imperceptibly larger, apparently) is that space between my teeth. No doubt it will provide me with an amusing level of eccentric charm for years to come.
Not to mention a superior level of spitting abilities.
— Rachael Koenig
Rachael Koenig is a writer and humorist deriving most of her inspiration from her two sons, ages nine and five, and stepdaughter, 13. Her site Maxisms contains personal stories and a collection of precocious, snarky and hilarious conversations between herself and her children. Her work has recently appeared on scarymommy.com, rolereboot.org, whattheflicka.com and The New York Times parenting blog Motherlode. She thinks of herself as more of an essayist than a blogger, because she is old-fashioned and grumpy and out of touch with modern social media vernacular. Also, “blogger” still sounds like something one would pull out of a left nostril. She can be reached on Facebook.