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

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Spinal stenosis put the squeeze on me

Sharon L. CookFive years ago I began experiencing lower back pain. It started when I reached into the dishwasher or bent to search the refrigerator. When chopping vegetables, I’d have to sit. My back was obviously sending me a message: Get out of the kitchen.

I agreed to an MRI scan although I was convinced the problem was caused by fallen arches. I’ve had custom arch supports since the eighth grade (though not the same pair). Mornings I slide the 1/2 inch-thick leather inserts into my shoes and immediately feel balanced. Two hours later they feel as thick as catcher’s mitts and I yank them out. My feet are rarely happy although I’ve tried everything including Earth Shoes, which didn’t help. Nor did Birkenstock sandals, Crocs, Dr. Scholl’s or anything with “ortho” in its name.

Meanwhile, I learned the cause of my back pain: degenerative disc disease, commonly known as spinal stenosis.

The following week I had an appointment with Dr. Terence Doorly at his Peabody office. (A fact about neurosurgeons: They must be trained and certified in both surgery and neurology.) Dr. Doorly told me that spinal stenosis is common in 10 percent of baby boomers. Basically the bony supports of the spinal column build up, compressing the spinal canal. The word “stenosis” means narrowing in Greek.

Dr. Doorly displayed my MRI scan on his office monitor. It looked pretty good to me: lots of vibrant color. He concluded by saying he wouldn’t be operating in the near future, yet I’d be back. “Never!” I thought. I would go on a self-improvement regimen. I would exercise and walk more. I would wear arch supports 24-7.

Upon Dr. Doorly’s recommendation, I visited a physical therapist to strengthen my “core.” Cores are something everyone in the fitness business talks about. For the next few weeks I subjected my core to twice-weekly physical therapy appointments. At the conclusion of my visits I can’t say I had washboard abs, but I had a decent core, better than the one I walked in with. The therapist gave me a sheet of exercises to do at home. Alas, the sheet ended up in a desk drawer along with the arch supports.

Five years later I returned to Dr. Doorly’s office. I couldn’t walk to the end of my street without stopping to sit and pretend to tie my shoes. I asked an office nurse what people did in the days before neurosurgery. “They lost control of their lower functions,” she said. Suddenly I felt grateful that I lived in an era of spinal surgery.

That attitude was put to the test in late May as I sat in Salem Hospital’s pre-op area, shivering in a cotton johnny. Patients in plastic shower caps, IVs and breathing tubes were wheeled past. Maybe I’d been too hasty, I thought. Maybe I wasn’t that bad. Minutes later my name was called: Too late to cancel.

In the hours following surgery, anesthesia played tricks on my mind. When my husband called my room, I couldn’t remember his first name. This didn’t bother me — in fact, I thought it was hilarious. Fortunately, as the anesthesia dissipated, my memory returned.

However, when I discovered I wouldn’t be discharged the second day, I called home in tears. Yet on the fourth day I tried convincing Dr. Doorly to let me stay longer. I’d become comfortable in my private room (a perk for neurosurgery patients). I received flowers, cards and meals. I napped as often as a cat. Occasionally I had to get up and walk for the physical therapists.

There’s an old expression: When the ball is over, it’s time to take off your dancing shoes. Eventually I took off my hospital johnny and returned to daily life. At home I graduated from a walker to a cane. Now one month later, I walk unaided.

Dr. Doorly said recovery isn’t a straight line. Some days will be better than others. In the meantime, I’m starting physical therapy. I don’t mind, but my core won’t like it one bit.

— Sharon L. Cook

Sharon L. Cook is author of A Nose for Hanky Panky and A Deadly Christmas Carol.

The royal treatment

Jerry ZezimaSince the birth of the little princess, people around the world have been abuzz with excitement.

I refer, of course, to my granddaughter, Chloe.

People seem excited about Princess Charlotte, too.

That goes for the royal family, but it also goes for my family because Chloe’s daddy, Guillaume, refers to Charlotte’s big brother, Prince George, as “my future son-in-law.”

And now Chloe and George could get a chance to meet. According to published reports, the royal family is renting a mansion for the summer in the Hamptons, the tony towns on Long Island, N.Y., that are a birthstone’s throw from my family’s home, the Zezimanse.

“I think Chloe and George would be perfect for each other,” said Patrick McLaughlin, a licensed broker for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in East Hampton, my second-favorite Hampton after Lionel. “They’re a little young yet,” McLaughlin added, “but I have no doubt that one day it will be a marriage made in heaven.”

I have no doubt, either. As I explained to McLaughlin, Guillaume and my younger daughter, Lauren, were married in the South of France in 2011, one day after George’s parents, William and Kate, were married in England. That made the royal couple the opening act for the real Wedding of the Century.

After I wrote to William and Kate to congratulate them, I got a lovely letter in return, thanking me for my good wishes and wishing Lauren and Guillaume the best.

When George was born in 2013, four months after Chloe, I sent a congratulatory letter to Prince Charles, from one grandfather to another. He must have been all ears, because he sent me a postcard of himself and his lovely wife, Camilla, as a token of his appreciation.

Naturally, the Zezimas were ecstatic when Charlotte was born in May, though we know that Chloe is the true princess.

“That’s safe to say,” McLaughlin noted. “I can see why George would be eager to meet her.”

In addition to selling and renting real estate to the rich and famous, whose identities are his little secret, McLaughlin writes a whimsical blog for Hamptons Chatter, a website that contains chatter about — you guessed it — Grand Forks, N.D.

No, I mean the Hamptons.

“I have fun with it,” said McLaughlin, who recently posted a piece about the rumored royal visit.

It began: “The royal formerly known as Prince William, now known as Kate Middleton’s husband, is apparently planning to bring his Windsor brood to spend their summer in the Hamptons! I know! I know! I’m as excited as the next Anglophile!”

I’m excited, too! And not just because of McLaughlin’s propensity for using exclamation points!

“Hi, William,” he continued. “Hopefully, you didn’t buy that real estate yet and you’ll be calling me as your agent in the near future.”

McLaughlin offered some suggestions about must-see spots in the Hamptons.

“One of them is Cyril’s, a great dive bar,” McLaughlin told me.

“I’ve been known to frequent dive bars,” I said. “Maybe William and I could have a pint of ale.”

“Then,” McLaughlin suggested, “you could take him to Home Goods. That’s another place he absolutely has to see.”

“I’m sure Kate would love to shop there,” I said.

“And she’d get great bargains,” said McLaughlin, adding that the royal family simply has to visit Martha Stewart, who has a home in the Hamptons. “She loves drop-by guests,” he noted.

“Do you think Martha would love it if I dropped by?” I asked.

“I’m sure she would,” McLaughlin said. “She might even bake you a cake.”

But the real highlight would be a royal visit to my house.

“It’s not technically in the Hamptons,” I said. “But it has a nice backyard with a slide and a kiddie pool.”

“Chloe and George aren’t old enough for cocktails by the pool,” McLaughlin said, “but you could serve them juice in sippy cups.”

“It’s a little too early to start planning a wedding,” I said. “But I know it’ll be love at first sight.”

— 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.

Kill your darlings

Molly CampbellI am a published author, so that makes me an authority on writing things, doesn’t it?

There are rules to follow. I try to follow them. One rule that has me flummoxed is the current ban on adverbs. You read that correctly. Correctly is an adverb. So how should I have said that just then? You read that with accuracy? Bah.

But since I plan to write more than one novel, and I am actually (another adverb) a third of the way through my next one, I thought I would share with you some of the no-nos in the author game. You know, so you will be a better critic in the future. But be kind in those Amazon reviews — some of them have been so harsh as to cause writers to contemplate becoming auto mechanics and cocktail waitresses instead. But I digress. You aren’t supposed to do that as a writer, either.

A cardinal rule of the writing business is “Show, don’t tell.” It took me about three years to understand what this really means. I am terrible at it. But the following are examples:

TELL: Audrey felt just sick about having to inform Robert that she couldn’t possibly marry him. After all, she still got cold shivers when she thought about Pierre. Pierre was the love of her life, and Audrey believed with all of her heart that he would return from that trip down the Amazon River to discover the cure for arthritis.

SHOW: Audrey woke, her pillow damp with her tears. She put her hand on her forehead, which throbbed from the dream that was so vivid. Pierre was rowing towards her, his eyes full of terror. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a giant boa constrictor reared out of the water, slithered onto Pierre’s tiny boat, and enveloped him in a twisting death grip. “Audrey, Audrey!” Pierre managed to cry, as the evil snake crushed the life out of him. Audrey picked up her cell phone and punched the “Robert” icon. “Hi, darling,” she said. “Oh yes, I will marry you!”

See? So much more literary.

Another writers’ tip is to use dialogue, not description. Readers tire of long passages full of poetic language, no matter how many hours the author spent painting the scene for them and being vivid. Nope. We would rather just move along. Let the characters move the plot, and really, we don’t actually care what color the leaves were on the trees that afternoon. For example:

DESCRIPTION: The sky darkened. The parched, mahogany leaves rattled in the sudden breeze. Flora felt the goosebumps rise on her arms, drawing the thin muslin wrap around her. Thunder rent the air with dissonant anger. Grant began to pack the picnic things into the basket, but not before the huge, cold drops began to fall. The sky took on a greenish hue as the lightning pierced the clouds. Grant seized the picnic basket in one hand and extended his other out to the frightened and shivering girl. As they hurtled toward the distant farm cottage, a thunderclap nearly knocked them down.


“Shit, Flora, I think it’s going to rain! Hurry up and finish your sandwich. We need to get out of here!”

“Don’t be silly. It is just heat lightning. It happens all the time around here. Want a pickle?”

“For God’s sake, are you nuts? My cousin got struck by lightning three years ago at the golf course, and he has been a sniveling idiot ever since — you can stay as long as you want, but I am getting out of here.”

“You are overreacting, as usual. Wait! Damn! My Sierra Mist just blew over! You may be right. Look at the sky — it’s puke green…”

Which book would you rather read? I thought so. 

So you see, we authors don’t just jot down whatever comes into our heads. It’s a craft. Nay, an art form! We spend hours just sifting through our heads for the right word. We agonize over those adjectives, and we brutally eliminate those adverbs (oh, right — brutally is an adverb). We struggle with realistic dialogue.

Yup. So right now I have to get back to Flora, Pierre and Robert. Poor Pierre. That anaconda — or was it a boa constrictor — just sealed his fate, and tonight, Robert is going to get lucky…

— Molly D. Campbell

Molly D. Campbell writes a blog from her pantry, often in pajamas. She is a two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Competition award winner, winning honorable mentions in both the humor and human interest categories in 2010 and 2012. She self-published her first book,  Characters in search of a novel. Her second book, Keep the Ends Loose, was released by The Story Plant in 2015.

Was the sheet really changed?

Pat GardnerI spent my early childhood in a dry cleaning truck.

My daddy had what would now be called an anxiety disorder. Dreading being alone, he needed my mother and me to accompany him on the dry cleaning route, which was his morning job. He made everything so much fun that I never wanted to be anywhere else.

We would head out Hanging Moss Road, with the windows down. I would put my face up to the passenger window, and the wind would rush through my long hair. Life was good.

At least I thought so. My mother traveled the dry cleaning route with us so that I would not be alone with my daddy.  She thought her presence would keep me from becoming neurotic like him — fearing germs or tornadoes or maybe both. (She seemed to assume that her own neuroses would be safer to pass down to a child.)

Despite her efforts, those mornings may have some loose connection to the less disruptive of my various neuroses. Places like motel rooms activate them. When I have to stay in a motel, my first reaction is to look at the bed and wonder who was in it last, what went on, and whether or not the sheet was really changed. The quilted coverlet on top seems especially dangerous since I know that no motel would have it cleaned after each customer checked out. I would really like one of those covers that L. L. Bean used to sell to put on top of motel beds.

Needless to say, I try never to touch anything in the motel bathroom, certainly not the bottom of the bathtub. I cannot prevent the bottoms of my feet from touching it, though. Regardless of who may have been there last, I care too much about personal hygiene to put off showering until I get home. My brother, who spent most of his career working for the Health Unit, told me that you can never really be sure about a motel toilet. I don’t know whether he was sadistically trying to increase my neurosis or if he shares it.

Unlikely experiences can activate my condition. I think of a church that was innovative about Communion. The congregation stood in a circle and passed around the loaf. Each person would break off a piece and, while speaking the ancient words, hand the bite to the next person.

Worrying about so many people pawing the bread, I tried to watch closely and give my husband a bite that not many people had mauled. It calmed me somewhat when the church acquired a tray and quit passing the bread like a football. Still, I was glad when we moved to another city.

My husband and I let our dog Baggins  in bed with us, and I sometimes mix up my coffee cup with the one that protects his spaniel ears. I don’t really worry, though. Only human beings seem reeking with germs. Maybe my daddy never thought to caution me about accidentally sharing a cup with a dog. I know it was for the best that he concentrated mainly on disease spread by humans.

Living with a dog is one of my great joys, and I rarely ever encounter a motel.

— Pat Gardner

Pat Gardner, a retired academic, lives with her husband and their half-spaniel dog Baggins. She enjoys meeting outrageous people in places like grocery stores.

Sharknado 3:
Never leave home without a chainsaw


Donna CavanaghLast night I watched the much anticipated premiere of Sharknado 3. Don’t worry if you had to miss the Syfy Channel broadcast for as they say — I got you covered. Let me jump right in and tell you about this biting thriller/comedy.

When last we left our beloved heroes April and Fin Shepard (Tara Reid and Ian Ziering), they were rekindling their love for each other. In fact, Fin had just given April back her engagement ring. He rescued it from her left hand which happened to be resting inside a shark that he chainsawed to death in the last flick. Let’s fast forward.

The love birds are not only re-married but expecting a child any day. April is at Universal Orlando with her teenage daughter and her mother, played by the still glamorous Bo Derek — sans braids. April wears a glove over her prosthesis, which is equipped with a portable chainsaw. I bet her HMO didn’t cover that extra cost.

Fin is in Washington, D.C. to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Mark Cuban — yes, the Mark Cuban of business and Shark Tank fame. What are the odds? Well, probably even money if you think about it. Anyway, we soon discover that Ann Coulter, the world’s most cold-blooded and fierce predator in real life, is Vice President. Along with the medal, Fin receives a golden chainsaw from the mayor of NYC for his bravery and talent for killing flying sharks with the lawn tool in Sharknado 2.

Cameos abound in this flick — especially appearances by political stars. If  Chris Christie or Donald Trump had roles, this movie would have included almost the entire  2016 GOP presidential lineup. While in Washington, Fin and the D.C. elite fall victim to a massive Sharknado. People in tuxes and gowns who were minutes before lining up for the fresh seafood bar are now the buffet themselves. Fin races to save Cuban and Ann Coulter (I know, the reason eluded me, too). Cuban and Fin find the armory in the White House and between guns and his new golden chainsaw, they stop the sharks in D.C. We know this because the TODAY SHOW cast monitors the Sharknado events, which are increasing and threatening to destroy other cities in the country.

So, what’s going on with the one-armed wonder and family at Universal Orlando?  Nothing. Sure, they are aware that Washington has been destroyed by a Sharknado, but they don’t let it ruin their fun. They continue to go on the rides and eat amusement park junk food. I guess if people are going to pay that exorbitant admission price, they are going to get their money’s worth at Universal.

Well, the sharks descend upon Orlando and other cities, including Daytona where the Daytona 500 is going on. They eat both drivers and NASCAR fans…that might not be a bad thing…and once again we know this because of Matt Lauer and “Today Show” reporting. To beunnamed honest, I can never look at that show again with any kind of serious respect.

Fin knows that he needs a lot of heat and flame to stop the Sharknados from merging and creating an F5 sharknado that will destroy the country, so he goes to his father, a drunken ex-astronaut who never was allowed to fly in space, played by David Hasselhoff. They devise a plan to take a secret space shuttle and use its satellite weaponry system to destroy the sharknados. And NASA lets them have it. It doesn’t matter that no one has any shuttle experience — nope — they just suit them up. In the meantime, the pregnant April finds out about the flight and runs to Cape Canaveral and yells at Fin just as he is boarding the shuttle. It’s amazing that she gets right through the gates — no metal detectors or hands-on TSA agents. Nothing. Just a bunch of 20-somethings in embroidered NASA golf shirts who look like they just walked out of their shift at the APPLE store. Just as Fin is about to get into the shuttle, the sharknado hits and he puts April in an astronaut suit and the shuttle takes off. Now you know this is fiction because you can’t fly in your last trimester without a doctor’s note.

** I have to fast forward here. I left out some major characters such as Nova, the female shark fighter who wears a leather bra to fight the creatures and who obviously had a thing for Fin.

Well, things don’t go as planned and Fin’s dad sacrifices himself in space for his son and unborn grandchild. And just as Fin and April think that they will be okay, sharks get into the shuttle, which causes the shuttle to plummet to Earth. As they crashing, a shark eats April, so Fin jumps into the mouth of what he thinks is the same shark, to be with her. We see him rummaging around the intestines trying to find his pregnant wife, but nothing. When he finally lands on Earth, he climbs out of the shark. Surrounded by other fallen fish, he looks for his beloved. He is heartbroken and desperate and just when he is about to give up, he hears a buzzing noise and sees that April used her chainsaw hand to cut a hole through her shark. But it’s not April who comes out. NO, it’s his newborn son. Yep, April not only delivered the baby in the shark, but was able to cut a hole and hand the baby to Fin.

Now, you might think this is the most amazing part of the story, but it’s not. The most amazing part of the story is that after she is eaten by the shark, she is able to wriggle out of her space suit while inside the shark, deliver a baby, cut the umbilical cord and then find a new outfit to put on before she exits the shark. Now, that is freaking amazing.

What can we learn from Sharknado 3?

• It’s easier to get through security for a space shuttle than security for a flight to Pittsburgh.

• A chainsaw arm is way more effective than pepper spray. We should all have one.

• Vote Democratic. You might not like the party’s politics, but they don’t do Sharknado films.

And always carry a change of underwear. You never know when you will need it.

— Donna Cavanagh

Donna Cavanagh, who was part of the 2014 EBWW faculty, is a humor entrepreneur and founder of, an online humor magazine that features the work of more than 100 writers, screenwriters, filmmakers, actors and stand up comics.  She is also founder of HumorOutcasts Press/Shorehouse Books and is co-host of Write Out Loud for the URBusiness Network.  A veteran journalist who detoured into humor writing, Donna considers humor as “our best weapon against the challenges of today’s world.” Her books include Life on the Off Ramp, which was a finalist in the USA Books Contest, Try and Avoid the Speed Bumps, and her latest, A Canine’s Guide to the Good Life.


America’s looming throw pillow crisis

Con ChapmanThere was a time — it wasn’t that long ago — when America was a simpler place.

Kids with names like “Buddy” and “Sis” raced home from school to be embraced by mothers, who would give them cookies and milk and watch with heads cocked fondly to one side as the children ran into the living room to watch cartoons.

The girl from the country who helped mom with housekeeping — usually named “Wanda” or “Velma” — would say. “Those young’uns of y’orn are as cute as peahens!” Mom would say, “Thank you Wanda or Velma — now wash the storm windows.”  She knew how to keep the hired help in line. A careless tone of familiarity could trigger expectations of a $5 tip at Christmas, setting off a vicious wage-price spiral that would destroy the life savings of the middle class.

But those days are gone. Today, the boy and girl who round the corner and hurtle into the living room, turning salchow-style in mid-air so that they end up on the couch facing the TV, are in for a rough landing.

Because Mom has drunk at the fountain of feminine fulfillment — try saying that five times fast — and now elevates home furnishing over the simple needs of her family. The couch is covered with throw pillows, and milk and cookies go flying all over the place, leading to screams of dismay — “I just bought that Provencal print pillow at Pottery Barn!” — recriminations, tears, corporal punishment and a decline in standardized test scores.

Or consider dad. He’s had a hard day down at Acme Pneumatic Drills. He’s read the paper, smoked his pipe, laughed at Jackie Gleason, and is getting tired. “I think I’m going to call it a day, sweetie. You coming to bed?”

“I just want to watch Imogene Coca, then I’ll be right up,” mom says.

“Okay,” dad says. He trudges up the stairs, changes into pajamas, brushes his teeth and is all set to “hit the hay” when his tired eyes turn to his bed and see a stack of throw pillows piled high like the aftermath of an avalanche down a mountain populated by interior decorator trolls.

“Arrgh!” he screams, in the manner of Henry II. “Will no one rid me of these troublesome pillows?”

Dad doesn’t dare touch the pillows himself. He knows he’ll only get in trouble.  He waits until the little woman comes running upstairs, removes the pillows from the bed and arranges them just so. By the time she’s done, it’s time to go to work. Just thank your lucky stars that dad isn’t the pilot on your 7:30 a.m. flight to Dallas.

Nervous environmental nellies complain about global warming, which in the worst-case scenario isn’t going to drown anybody until 2525. America’s throw pillow crisis affects people right now! If present trends continue, the entire North American continent will be covered with throw pillows by 2017.

What are the tell-tale signs that throw pillow inundation may soon leave you “under chintz,” as climatologists say?  Here is a dishwasher-safe list you can keep handy as the ruffles start to rise around you:

Decorating magazine “creep.” Throw-pillow “rampages” are, in fact, much rarer than supermarket tabloids would have you believe. Most instances of throw pillow-cide are premeditated, the end result of an interior decorating scheme gone horribly awry. How can you tell if your wife is planning a large-scale pillow purchase? The appearance of stacks of decorating magazines around the house. “Just as caterpillars have thicker fur before a cold winter,” says Ray Suggins, Jr. of the Missouri Department of Fish and Game, “a pile of decorating magazines is a sign that throw pillows are on their way.”

There’s a throw pillow in the cat’s bed. Throw pillow “junkies” like to conceal their habit by off-loading excess pillows to places where they will escape detection. “Cats are colorblind, so giving them a preppy plaid throw pillow is a waste of money,” says Marci Standler of Creative Impressions, a home design consultancy in Wellesley, Mass. “I would stick to neutral tones — taupe and oyster.”

There’s no room for your snowblower in the garage. Throw pillows can brighten up any room, but the garage isn’t a “room.” “Decorating a garage, tool room or ‘guy town’ basement with throw pillows is considered grounds for divorce in many western states,” says domestic relations attorney Earl Grealy, Jr., and the trend is spreading.

“A man needs a place where his bad taste can run free,” Grealy says, ”and a chintz throw pillow is going to clash with his poker dogs poster.”

— 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.

My yellow toes

Anne BardsleyThis year, my husband, Scott, surprised me with a pedicure for Mother’s Day.

It sounded very relaxing. He said, “You don’t have to do a thing. I’ll even get the nail polish.”

I thought this sounded lovely. I remembered for a minute that he is colorblind, but quickly dismissed the thought.

When he arrived home from shopping, I asked, “What color did you pick?”

He reached into the bag and pulled out a school bus yellow bottle of polish.

“I’ve never seen that color before,” I told him.

“Anne, it’s the color of Alexander Ovetchken’s skate laces. I had to buy it.”

Now, I understand hockey fan loyalty, but seriously? The color of a hockey player’s laces? Did he ever think Anne isn’t a fan of yellow? Obviously not.

To be a good sport and to appreciate the thought behind the gift, I went along. Well, not only is he colorblind, he has horrible peripheral vision. It looked like a kindergartner finger-painted my toes! I had yellow all over my cuticles. When he offered to do my fingernails to match, I quickly replied, “Oh, no! You have done so much for me already.”

I hoped no one would notice my feet, but in a state where flip-flops are considered formal wear, they are out for viewing all day, every day. And believe me, people noticed. I was at the grocery store when an older lady spotted my yellow polish. “Well, aren’t you bright today?” she remarked.

I explained that it was a gift from my husband. “Really?” she said as she raised her eyebrow. “Are you still married?”

I told her, “It was a very sweet gesture and I love it.”

After two weeks of remarks from strangers about my pedicure, I decided to get a color change. At the nail salon, a lady came to do my pedicure, and naturally, she asked about my Alexander Ovetchkin’s skate lace color polish. I told her, “My husband did this as a gift.”

She burst out laughing. “Yor huband do this to yu? Hahahaha!”

I tried to explain that he did it for Mother’s Day, as a gift from the heart. By now, six other women were cackling, and all I could understand was, “Her huband do dat to huh, tee hee hee.” They were huddling in a fit of hysterics. One by one, they came by to inspect my feet. “Oh, yor huband? You like your huband?” they asked and chuckled.

The owner of the salon came over to see what all the commotion was about.“Yor huband must be berry sweet. I wish my huband do dis for me.”

Naturally, I picked Ovechkin’s skate lace yellow for my nail polish color once again. Husband and hockey rock!

— 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.

Why the beach blows

Charles HartleyYou step into the ocean. You wonder what insensitive, sociopathic creatures are swimming around your feet.

Maybe a shark. Maybe minnows. Maybe horseshoe crabs. They’re all scary. They can all do you harm. They don’t care about you. They don’t know you and would rather eat you than get to know you. This alone is disconcerting.

You then step on what feels like a greased watermelon. It’s some tar. You hate it when there’s tar on the ocean.

This started when you were a kid and not as fearful of things as you are now, an aging adult devoid of a spine. You wish you could be sure there is only sand and no creatures when you step in the ocean. It would remove your leeriness. You see yourself as a normal person. You are at the beach wanting to get refreshed by the water. You don’t need all that goes with it, the corrosive contaminates that drops you to oceanic depths of despair.

The water itself is contaminated. Always has been. This began, I’m guessing, around the time of Christopher Columbus. But how can I or anyone be certain? You start thinking about why the water is a brownish, greenish, yellowish color. It looks dirty. You envision fishing boats out at sea with men standing over the edge relieving themselves polluting the water. You are sure this has happened many times. You are swimming in water that those men wreck. Men don’t think. Men don’t care. They drink and then pee off the side of boats. They have never cared about swimmers. They only care about themselves.

You then start thinking about where all the sewage back home ends up. You are not sure, but you suspect it might be dumped in the ocean. People don’t’ talk about this much. A taboo subject, everybody learns at a young age not to bring this up during the family dinner hour. Probably just as well.

You are not naïve, however. You know there are few places to put all the trash and sewage people generate. One big place is the ocean. There is no bigger place. You deduce where all that trash goes. It’s not pleasant to think about for very long.

A lot of that trash may be in the water in which you are trying to get refreshed. It’s a hot day. You need to cool off. The ocean is right there, only a few steps from where you’ve been cooking on the beach reading a book about ocean pollution. While you were reading, a horse fly wouldn’t leave you alone. Planting itself on your shoulder, you felt the sting. You slapped at it with intent to kill. It got away. It won. You lost. Losing puts you in a bad mood.

A minute later it came back. This time it stood on your shin stinging you again. You slapped in vain knowing you didn’t have a chance. It got away. Horseflies always get away and always come back. This is why you hate them.

To avoid getting a sunburn, which would also sting, you spread suntan lotion all over your body except one area. You know what I mean. Your eye itches. You rub it. The itch goes away. But lotion gets in your eye. This is when you realize you didn’t wipe off the lotion thoroughly enough after spreading it on your body. Your eye stings. It get watery. You are crying. No matter how much you rub you can’t get the burning sensation to stop.

Desperate, you go to the ocean to rinse your eye in water. You eye burns so much you don’t care if it’s dirty water. You dive in and dunk your head. Your face hits the underbelly of a glassy-colored jelly fish the size of a basketball. You grab your face. The slime stung you on your nose, chin, mouth, and forehead. These body parts sting as if a knife cut them. Your eye still stings.

You are a mess.

The beach conquered you. The ocean guzzled you whole. The horsefly bit you and is still alive to bite you again. And it will.

There is no wind to cool down the blazing hot sun. This is the way the wind blows.

This is why the beach blows.

— 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