In the immortal words of Dr. Doonothing, otherwise known as yours truly, if I could talk to the animals, what a neat achievement that would be. But would a tiger or a camel, bird, reptile or mammal, really, truly want to talk to me?
That’s what I hoped to find out, without being eaten in the process, during my recent trip to the Bronx Zoo, where I trekked with my wife, Sue; our younger daughter, Lauren; and our granddaughters, Chloe, 4, and Lilly, 11 months, both of whom were first-time visitors who soon learned that some of the most fascinating creatures walked on two legs and talked to the animals with a New York accent.
We heard them chatter (most of what they said was either incomprehensible or unrepeatable) during a stampede into the zoo, which was overrun with humans because it was Wednesday, when admission is free and the animals get to see what wildlife is really like.
The first denizens we saw were bison, which were once almost hunted to extinction, prompting Lauren to remark, “They make really good burgers.”
Then we flew into the World of Birds, which housed, among other fine feathered friends, a guira cuckoo.
“Who’s a cuckoo?” I asked Chloe, who looked up at me and chirped, “Poppie!”
The next exhibit was Tiger Mountain, featuring a massive Amur (or Siberian) member of the species that earned its stripes when Chloe commented, “Just like Tick and Tock, the Tiger Twins,” referring to the feline siblings who star in a book that teaches kids how to tell time.
By then it was time for lunch (not, thank God, for the tiger, which looked directly at me and licked its chops), so we found a shady spot and gobbled up turkey sandwiches. I didn’t feel guilty because turkeys are among the few animals that don’t reside at the zoo. It wouldn’t have been the case with bison burgers.
As we were finishing, a visitor started yelling at one of her kids (not the goat variety), who ran off faster than a cheetah, further incensing the woman, who brayed, “My house is more of a zoo than this place!”
The scene drove me to drink, so I went to the watering hole and ordered three beers for the adults in our group.
“May I please see an ID?” Tiffany D. asked me.
“God bless you!” I gushed. “I haven’t been carded in decades.”
“You’re looking young in those sunglasses and that hat,” she said with a wink and a smile. “In fact,” added Tiffany, who couldn’t have been more than 30, “you’re looking younger and younger all the time.”
“I’m going to come back,” I said after I paid her (and left a nice tip).
“OK!” said Tiffany. “Come back and I’ll card you again.”
As we strolled off, a woman pushing a stroller stopped so her young daughter could say hello to Chloe and Lilly, each of whom was in a stroller, too.
“That’s a good idea,” the merry mom said when she saw our refreshments.
“You’re going to get a beer?” I asked.
“Of course,” she answered. “Why do you think I come to the zoo?”
Another woman passed by with her kids in tow and said, “I wish someone would push me around in a stroller.”
Sue, who worked up a sweat pushing Chloe, said, “It’s a good thing I go to the gym.”
A good thing, indeed, because there was plenty more to see, including a polar bear, two grizzly bears, several giraffes, a herd of zebras and a caravan of camels, which Chloe liked because, as she noted while the beasts of burden masticated disgustingly, “It looks like they’re chewing gum.”
The only creatures smart enough not to come out were the lions, which disappointed everyone because they were, naturally, the mane attraction. But we did hear them roar from wherever they were hiding, which I hoped wasn’t behind my car, where we headed after a long but exciting day.
If I weren’t driving, I would have gone back for another beer so Tiffany D. could card me again. At the zoo, it’s called animal magnetism.
— Jerry Zezima
I was about 13 when a bunch of my friends and I pooled our pocket change to buy our first copy of Playboy.
We were embarrassed to look at the magazine together, so though some perverse logic, the group decided to cut up the magazine and we all got different sections. Because I was the youngest, I wound up with sections on proper attire, the Playboy Philosophy, and an interview with General Tito of Yugoslavia and no photos, except of Tito.
We discovered in that issue that Playboy was opening Playboy gentleman clubs all over. For $100 a year, a sophisticated and debonair gent could get a Playboy key that allowed you entrance to any club in the world to hobnob with celebrities and watch the Playboy “Bunny” waitresses do the “Bunny Dip” as they served drinks.
We couldn’t afford a key and besides they weren’t opening a club in Youngstown, Ohio, so, we opened our own Playboy Club. We found an old shed, painted the door gold and put a Playboy Bunny symbol on it.
It wasn’t much of a bunny hutch. It was actually an old chicken coop — with chickens still in it. But that didn’t stop us. We just hung up some “Bunny pictures,” kept the lights low and pretended we were in a swanky Playboy Club.
I have to say, though, the chickens made lousy hostesses. They were always getting the orders wrong. And when we strapped these little bunny ears on, they just looked plain ridiculous. Plus, they would peck at you whenever you tried to order a drink.
Nevertheless, we’d go to our club once a day and sit around old card tables on wooden boxes and order dry Martini’s that tasted like Cherry Cola and discuss the Playboy Philosophy. Most people remember Playboy as being all nude pictures but it actually provided social advice to the young men of the era through the Philosophy and Playboy Advisor.
For example, we learned things like a gentleman on a date always walked next to street with the lady away for the curb to protect her from being splashed by puddles from the road. But we all knew the real reason was if a runaway car careened off the street unto the sidewalk, the guy would get killed first.
Some of the stuff in the magazine made no sense to us. The Playboy adviser would say, “your tie tack should always be in the middle of the ‘shirt placket’ so it centered the front of your Windsor knotted tie.”
“What do you think a ‘placket’ is?” I would ask. “I don’t know,” my buddy Mike would respond. “What’s a tie tack? And who’s Windsor?”
We diligently read the magazine’s advice on how many blue, black and brown suits we should have in our wardrobe, even though we probably didn’t have one suit between the six of us. And we became knowledgeable connoisseurs of fancy cars and stereo systems long before we reached the financial ability to buy any of those things.
The club lasted for a few years until we got to dating age and could drive cars. That’s when we abandoned our Playboy Club and chose reality.
— Myron Kukla
I suspected that the prize would probably involve a lamp shaped like a body part, but I was incredibly honored to be recognized by this great organization. My wife and I immediately jumped at an excuse to escape from our usual exhilarating activities like de-pooping litter boxes, scraping toxic sludge out of rain gutters and serving as our daughters’ personal Uber drivers.
When we arrived at Boston’s Logan International Airport and collected our baggage, our first stop was the car rental center, where we picked up a cute, little Ford Fiesta. The charm quickly wore off, though, when we climbed in and were almost overcome with a pungent aroma. Being the litter box connoisseurs that we are, we immediately recognized the stench of cat urine. Oh, well, at least we felt at home.
Speaking of urinous odors, we noticed while driving through New England that asparagus is a big deal here. There were roadside farm stands featuring asparagus, asparagus festivals, and even a dairy selling asparagus ice cream. Now, I like asparagus as much as the next guy. I consider it the Don King of vegetables, and to me, it tastes like the love child of an English pea and a green bean. But asparagus ice cream? Clearly, these people need to experience the wholesome, natural bounty of my native Texas — like corn dogs and Frito pie.
While resisting this obvious example of collusion between Russia and the asparagus industry to convince me to eat healthy green vegetables, we decided to use the opportunity of being in New England to visit a few historical sites, like the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. As a literature nerd, I considered it quite a treat to visit the home of this iconic American poet whose works have been inspiring teachers and anesthetizing their students for decades. We even saw Emily Dickinson’s chamber pot in her bedroom, where she presumably wrote many of her 1,800 poems. Ok, it probably wasn’t her actual chamber pot and probably didn’t inspire her to write “There came a wind like a bugle,” but one can dream.
Next on our itinerary was a visit to the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Shaftsbury, Vermont, where Frost wrote one of my all-time favorites, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It’s a poem about a creepy trespassing guy who repeats himself a lot and has a talking horse — according to an analysis by one of my more insightful students. Our journey through the beautiful Green Mountains was breathtaking and rather treacherous, with road signs warning about falling boulders, moose crossings and overzealous maple syrup vendors. Although we didn’t see a single jaywalking moose or tumbling boulder, we did pass about 800 guys on Harley-Davidson midlife crisiscycles. (They were probably headed to an asparagus festival.)
At Robert Frost’s home, since rampaging moose and killer boulders aren’t terrifying enough, the museum director engaged us in a sparkling and educational chat about ticks and Lyme disease. She even showed us some tick specimens in a jar on display near the gift shop. I’m not sure what disease-carrying parasites have to do with Robert Frost, but from this point on, I’m afraid the two will be forever linked in my mind — apologies to the Frost family.
When the night of the banquet arrived, I was nervous but proud to be in the company of folks who actually make a living with their writing skills, instead of just dribbling silly thoughts around to the embarrassment of friends and family. We were served a medley of baked salmon and — surprise — asparagus. (I was a little disappointed that moose wasn’t on the menu.) The keynote speaker of the night was Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd, who offered a funny but blistering critique of Donald Trump. With an audience of media professionals, delivering this speech was like offering an array of catnip-laden fidget spinners to a clutter of adolescent felines.
Before we left the gathering to pack for home, my wife and I were actually able to meet Ms. Dowd and, since we are from Texas, visit with her about the Bush family, with whom she actually has a cordial relationship. She seems to get a kick out of having been nicknamed “The Cobra” by President George W. Bush, and she has repeatedly asked his father to take another skydive — with her. Chatting with Maureen Dowd was truly a fitting end to a great trip. I only wish I’d been quicker on my feet and asked for her thoughts on ticks and Lyme disease.
— Jason Graves
Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective in his blog. Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.
You’re always there for the most important things. Weddings, reunions and any time I have a speech.
Bulging, nearly bursting, yet slightly underground. I’m 41 and after all these years you still come around.
I know I shouldn’t try to cover you up after poking and pinching and prodding you to pop.
No cover up, powder or sandblaster can make you go away. No, no, no. If there’s a special occasion, you’ve got a prime spot on my face.
It’s always a surprise to see where you’ll settle in, but I can always trust that it will be my forehead, nose, or chin.
Oh, Adult Acne, you’re just so god da** stealthy! What a clever, ironic, puss-filled pal.
Courtney is the Corky (writer) of the Gnat & Corky Series. A collection of children’s books that just got picked up for publishing. You can read more from her blog KEEP YOUR SOUL @corkywrites or visit www.courtneykoloski.com.
The state of one’s pantry is not often discussed. I don’t bring it up for fear that if my friends’ pantry experiences don’t line up with mine, our relationships will be forever changed. But, I can no longer keep these pantry thoughts to myself, and I ask that if you’ve never experienced pantry misery to refrain from commenting because like any other sort of misery, pantry misery loves company.
My years of experience have proven that the pantry is indeed complex. It appears as a simple shelved structure, but what goes on in there during any given week is mysterious, moody –a weekly drama that unfolds before our eyes (because the kids never shut the pantry door).
We do the weekly shopping, come home and put everything away. The cereal and cracker boxes are lined up. Canned goods are all facing the same way and grouped by contents. Pastas are organized by shape. And the chips? Well, they never last long anyway, so it really doesn’t matter where we put them. And when we are done, we are so pleased with our pantry’s appearance that I, with great hope, proclaim something like, “Now that’s a pretty pantry; let’s keep it this way. Everyone put things back where you found them and we’ve got this!”
Then, the metamorphosis begins.
Perhaps my pantry proclamation is not specific enough, because my intense pantry study this week revealed some bad habits that may stun some, horrify others.
You’ve been warned.
Day 1: I observed a couple of Goldfish crackers on the pantry floor.
Day 2: Some boxes were put back in the wrong places. At least one is empty and another has just 2 ½ crackers that escaped the inside bag and are sitting stale at the bottom of the box.
Day 3: The plastic wrap box is placed on top of the canned goods. At least one snack bag is not folded and clipped shut. Someone still doesn’t know how to open the granola bar boxes. And, the rice is now in the cereal box line up.
Day 4: Who put the can of black beans on top of the now smooshed bread? A cereal box is on its side. Rice and Goldfish are swimming together on the pantry floor. Someone tried to hide their favorite snack behind the surplus of peanut butter jars –one of which has a convenient tasting sample on the outside of the jar.
Day 5: The canister of oatmeal fell on me when I opened the door. The open bag of quinoa is in an empty fruit strip box. Wait. What? The jam from the fridge was put on the canned goods shelf. Cereal boxes are on the pantry floor. Some kibble has joined the bits of rice and Goldfish crackers also on the pantry floor. The tortilla chips were left open and they’re stale. A tall person put the pistachios that we eat daily with the stash of extra condiments on the top shelf. Hmm, let’s play what doesn’t belong?
And on the morning of Day 6: My son opens the pantry door and says, ”Sheesh, it’s like a black hole in here. He looks perplexed as he quickly shuts the door (because HE NEVER SHUTS THE DOOR). My daughter opens the door and says, “Hey, where are my granola bars? And, yuck! This bread is moldy!” My husband takes one look and says, “I think I’ll grab something to eat at work.”
And finally, when everyone leaves and I’m getting ready to start working, I pour a cup of coffee and head straight to my secret stash of dark chocolate. I continue with the day, avoiding the pantry at all costs, and look forward to Day 7 when the pantry is once again pretty, at least for a little while.
Melissa Jablonowski is a mother of two who writes about midlife, motherhood and more. She, like Erma, also firmly believes, “When humor goes, there goes civilization.”
My wife, Sue, considers me a strange bedfellow, which is why it took both of us to drive up to our hometown of Stamford, Conn., disassemble a bed, load it into a rental truck, drive it back down to our house on Long Island, N.Y., unload it, deposit it in our living room, disassemble a bed in an upstairs bedroom, bring it downstairs, load it into my car, drive it to our younger daughter’s house, go back home, bring the first bed upstairs and reassemble it in the aforementioned bedroom. All of this involved headboards, footboards, box springs and mattresses.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
And I didn’t even mention that more furniture, including a kitchen table and a set of chairs, was involved.
Fortunately, it didn’t happen all in one day. Also, we had help. And we are grateful to Sue’s mother and sister for their generosity (and, in the case of Sue’s sister, physical assistance) in giving us, respectively, the bed and the kitchen set.
Still, for someone my age (old enough to know better), it’s hard work, which I have always tried to avoid.
This is the best time of life because you can still do everything you have always done, but if there’s something you don’t want to do, you can pull the age card.
“I don’t think I should be lugging furniture anymore,” you might say to no one in particular, because no one in particular will listen to you.
Sure enough, it fell on deaf ears. And those ears belong to Sue, who pretended not to hear my feeble excuses (hernia, heart attack, death) about why we could live without all the exertion.
I must say, however, that we are a good team: Sue’s the brains, I’m the pawn. So we joined forces to get the job done.
The worst part of bedding against the odds involves: (a) mattresses and (b) stairs.
The mattress of one of the two beds has handles; the other doesn’t. With the former, at least you have something to grab hold of; with the latter, you have to try to grasp the smooth edge and lift, pull, push, slip, slide or, if you are not careful, drop it down an entire flight of stairs. Or vice-versa, though it’s impossible to drop a mattress up a flight of stairs because it will only slide back down with you holding on, handles or no handles, until you both crash to the floor.
It’s not that a mattress is heavy (any Olympic weightlifter can hoist one for at least three seconds before EMTs have to be called), but it’s definitely unwieldy. That is why Sue and I had so much trouble navigating each of them, not just up and down stairs, but around corners, over railings and past a wall full of family photos that include one of me when I was a baby (it was taken last week).
Then there are the headboards and the footboards, which are meant to be dropped on your head and your foot, respectively. These not only are unwieldy but are approximately as heavy as a full-grown rhinoceros, without the horn but with posts that can do just as much damage if they hit you in the wrong spot. After one such near-catastrophe, I was lucky I didn’t have to go to Vienna, either for medical treatment or to join the Boys Choir.
Finally, Sue and I got the first bed upstairs and put it together, a herculean feat that called for several infusions of cold beer.
That night, we collapsed on our own bed. It was the best night’s sleep we ever had.
— Jerry Zezima
Questionable personalities everywhere. Well after all, not every neighborhood can be abundantly blessed with people as perfect as we were.
’Twas truly a hood for strugglers. Broke most weeks. Trapped. Cursed by fate, there we resided, confined among the “certified” in a luxurious trailer park, where the chief status symbol was new tires for the house.
Call it a cosmic force thingy, call it a fact: Kookie people gravitate toward each other. The big mystery? In the marching band of life, how did everyone but us-uns fall out of step?
The bloke who dwelled two doors down with his mate, Myrtle, called himself Murpho. He played the fiddle; she played the accordion. After a sample concert, my wicked wife affectionately but secretly nicknamed the couple Sharps and Flats.
Sharps and Flats shared the unique misfortune of both being nonsexual masochists. They desperately sought humiliation from others. As fate would have it, my bride and I both identified as nonsexual sadists. A perfect quartet? — Not.
What snagged that setup was the fact that my wife and I were not the run-of-the-mill sadists. We were true sadists. We insisted upon being exceedingly nice to masochists and, much to our glee, it simply drove them ding-batty.
Sharps and Flats’ desire to be publicly humiliated chiefly manifested itself in their pretense as wannabe hillbillies. It was weee dogie this and weee dogie that and on and on like Ma and Pa Kettle. All this was rendered somewhat less obnoxious by the odd fact that they looked a lot like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Once on a night of desperate loneliness, we showed up at their door and were surprised by a big sign: “If yur uninvited or unexpected, ya’all is also unwelcome. Go away!”
Meant to incite hostility and punishment, the sign prompted compliments from us: “What a clever greeting,” I said. My bride’s lips dripped with her special brand of insincerity-syrup as she felt Flats’ garment: “That’s a lovely burlap outfit, dearie. Matches that leathery skin of yours to perfection.”
We complimented their cuisine, including the stench of kidneys boiling on the stove, but we lamented aloud that we had become (instant) vegetarians. We heard a manic swashing from the executive toilet. We discovered Sharps washing their dishes in the bathtub.
“Murpho! Turn down the water! Company’s here!” Flats yelled. Then turning to us she said, “Fun fact about that bathtub.”
Myrtle then related how Murpho hated taking a bath, that he had “tubba-phobia” — a severe fear of falling down drunk in the tub. To conquer that, she reported that he habitually crawled into the tub, never standing up, passed out as he soaked and eventually came to, crawled back out and weaved his way to a comfier bed.
Having always suspected that there must lie a pharmaceutical explanation for his eccentricities, I discovered my assessment was close. Sharps soon pulled a flask from his hind pocket and offered me a swig. Seemed glad when I declined. Turned out he was swilling down 200-proof corn alcohol.
Sharps winked as he claimed that he drank under only two conditions: “alone or with somebody.”
Having emptied the flask with two more gulps, he launched into a bawling jag. What prompted it? The memory of a brilliant Johnny Rogers’ football play from the Nebraska-Oklahoma Thanksgiving game of 1971.
Flats explained: “He so emotional. He cried once at a K-Mart opening.”
Suddenly, Sharps sniffed, quivered his lips, then wailed: “Is Anyone listening to me? Oh, I hope Someone is listening to me. Because I already KNOW thishh.”
Yup, the boy boozed it up a bit. Once when Flats was away visiting “kinfolk,” I heard something that sounded like the proverbial torturing of a moose. I noticed a police car parked outside the couple’s house at midnight.
Strolling by to see what was happening, I saw two cops, staring into the couple’s window, laughing hysterically. Sharps, drunker than a hound dog chasing two skunks, was wearing earplugs and bellowing off key at the top of his lungs.
When he spotted the cops, he yanked off the earplugs, blasting the air with Willie Nelson’s rendition of a darling little ditty titled “Mule Skinner Blues.”
So, that was Murpho and Myrtle. Two of my all-time favorites. Sweet entertainment for us newlyweds and now for sweet strolls down memory lane.
Oh, when the couple found out through the hood grapevine that my bride had nicknamed them Sharps and Flats (in honor of their musical “talents”), Sharps loved the new handle.: “It also honors my mind — Sharp”
Sharp, indeed. Sharp as a mitten filled with jello — but oh so charming.
— 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.
My mother has always been my Go-To Girl. My Chief Advisor. My One-Tell. For as long as I can remember, almost everything I’ve ever experienced in my life was viewed and evaluated through the prism of my mother’s perspective.
Remember those elastic bracelets people wore years ago that said “WWJD?” (What would Jesus do?) I wondered what Jesus would do, but I’ve also spent a lifetime wondering “WWMD?” What would Mom do? Or think? Or say?
This might be a good time to admit to my closest friends that every time they told me a secret and I promised to keep it, “cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” I never actually stuck that needle in my eye, even though I always went straight to my mom with their confidence.
Any time anything happened, no matter how minor or mundane, I always began a running narrative in my head telling mom all about it. And that’s assuming I didn’t call and fill her in immediately.
-Whether I bought something on sale (“Remember that blouse we saw in Nordstrom…”)
-Whether I ran into someone (“You’ll never believe who I saw today…”)
-Anything and everything her grandchildren said or did (“Tommy said the cutest thing, we were sitting at the dinner table and…”)
Nothing was too insignificant to mention:
“I ordered the chicken!”
“The hotel was gorgeous!”
“I had the worst headache!”
Our mothers are our very first listeners.
And I was blessed to tell mine so many wonderful things like, “We’re engaged!” “I’m pregnant!” “We bought a house!” “I’m published!” and a few not-so-good things, the most awful was, “He said you’ve got Leukemia” and a few months later, “They said there’s nothing left they can do…”
Like all matriarchs, my Mama loves our family lore:
“Remember the time Dad parked the Winnebago on the beach at Padre Island and the tide came in while we were asleep? We woke up the next morning to the serene sounds of waves lapping tires and realized we were surrounded by ocean…”
“Remember traveling back to the U.S. from the Army base in Germany, after Dad had his heart attack and we couldn’t get a taxi to make our connection in Philadelphia? (No one seemed excited to transport an Army Wife traveling alone with her 3 “Brats.”) As you tossed our luggage on top of an unsuspecting cab, you shouted at us kids to jump in, leaving the cabbie no choice but to take us!”
“What about the time I threw a paper airplane in class which my teacher intercepted, unfolded and wrote a note on – requesting your signature? You took my plane, unfolded it again, inserted it in your IBM Selectric and proceeded to type your own note informing the teacher how proud you were that I was preparing for a career in Aeronautical Engineering!”
My mom was a sassy one, but she had it a little bit wrong that time. The paper airplane episode didn’t indicate that I was destined to become an Aeronautical Engineer, just that I was destined to be a bit of a mischief-maker who acted up, talked too much and would stop at nothing to make people laugh.
I did, however, follow in her footsteps to become a sassy mother.
These days my mother and I have entered a new phase of talking, listening, laughing and crying. Her tiny body is indeed spent from the fight, yet still she yearns for a few more significant insignificant days to give her children her undivided attention.
And we will fill this time with tales of hilarity courage and that inexplicable force called mother-love. The wonderful and trivial, peppered here and there with a story about someone else’s drama or something fabulous we found on sale.
It is, after all, what Mom would do.
— Leslie Blanchard
Leslie Blanchard is a wife of one and mother of five, who writes the blog, A Ginger Snapped: Facing The Music of Marriage And Motherhood. After she received a journalism degree, she became the “Wind Beneath My Husband’s Wings” and didn’t write anything for 27 years, except her family’s Christmas letter. All that changed with the invention of the iPad with a waterproof cover. Now, she lays in the bathtub all day, neglecting her other responsibilities, and writes about life outside the tub. Her essays are titled after songs because, as she and her hubby puzzle through a marriage or child-rearing problem, they sing the song that particular issue reminds them of (with a pertinent lyric change here or there).