Christine was everything a dorm roommate’s mother should be, starting with being on time for college move in day. What’s more, she was armed with cleaning products. And while that was several months ago, the problem has only gotten worse, not better…
The day had not started well. I’d misplaced the keys to the van and in a panic had to unpack everything into the Subaru. Check in was set for 7:30 a.m. It was already 7:10 a.m.
“Mom! We’re gonna have to take two trips. Come on! We’re gonna be late!” my daughter, Nell, worried as we jammed the last of her things into laundry baskets and duffel bags.
“No big deal,” I told her while hip-checking the car door to force it closed. Everything fit, just as I said. Well, with the exception of one thing: Her sister.
“We’ll just tie you onto the top of the car,” I told Susannah as I jokingly began tying a rope around her legs.
I still can’t believe she thought I was serious. Sure, she’s undertaken some adventuresome challenges on our cross county trips to spread her father’s ashes when counting things like rock climbing a 1200 foot mountain or 30 foot tidal bore rafting in the Bay of Fundy. There was also the time I talked her into horseback riding in the Grand Teton Mountains and yes, she did fall off just like she said she would, but never would I tie her to the roof of a car.
“Mom! That’s sooo dangerous!” she cried, struggling to untie herself.
“Don’t be an idiot Susannah,” Nell scolded. “Mom would never do that. You’d dent the roof.”
There really wasn’t any room left in the backseat, but I didn’t want her to miss the day.
“Just lay down on the seat, strap yourself in as best you can, and I’ll put the duffels on top of you,” I instructed Susannah. “If we have an accident, don’t worry. You have a lot of cushioning!”
Some 45 minutes of grumping later, we were greeted in the dorm room by her roommate and her roommate’s very cheerful mother.
This is Christine. This is me, trying to look like Christine.
She’d arrived early. We were late.
Her nails were painted. Mine were dirty from gardening.
Her hair was done. Mine was in a pony tail.
She wore a pretty sweater. I’d thrown on a hoodie and pink tee-shirt.
What’s worse, her daughter’s side of the room was already made up in a beautiful white comforter with a string of lights, assorted fluffy throw pillows, a side table, and a cute rug. Oh and did I mention the brand new big screen TV and bright red vacuum cleaner?
Nell had forgotten her pillows.
“Hi, I’m Christine!” the Mom chirped, popping her head out from the refrigerator she’d been filling with groceries from Whole Foods. She’d already scrubbed down the cabinets.
“Hi!” I croaked, feeling like Humpty Dumpty.
I was suddenly glad to have splurged on a brand new set of pots and pans at Bed Bath & Beyond rather than shopping at the local Goodwill.
“Here. I got these for the girls,” I said with a little swagger as I set the shiny new boxes on the kitchen counter. I shot Nell a look that said, “Ha, told you so.”
She knew exactly what I meant. I’d told her all along that her roommate’s Mom would be the perfect Mrs. Clever who’d bake cookies and do the girls’ laundry and how I’d basically fail in comparison. I could just tell she was one of those Moms.
“Nobody’s mother is going to wash their clothes or mine for that matter,” Nell said with annoyance. “Don’t be ridiculous, Mom! She works just like you do.”
Fast forward a few months to last night while chatting with Nell on FaceTime.
“What’s in the foil?” I asked. She had “brought me” into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
“Oh. That? It’s banana bread.”
I immediately knew something was wrong with this picture.
“You baked banana bread?”
“No, Daniella’s mom made it. She dropped it off for us today.”
“She did? She came all the way into the city to bring you girls homemade bread?”
“No, um, well, she was also dropping off our laundry too.”
“’Our’ laundry? What do you mean, ‘our’ laundry? You mean she did your laundry?”
Out came a sheepish “yes.”
I could hear Christine in the background giggling and laughing on FaceTime with her daughter.
“Will you put her on the phone?” I asked. “I want to say hi.”
“You did their laundry? Really?” I said, not saying hi. “I haven’t done Nell’s laundry since she was 12. And you delivered it with a loaf of homemade banana bread? You’re showing me up here woman. What are you, the perfect dorm room mother?”
“Believe me, I’ve been called worse,” she laughed.
While making plans to sneak off for a cup of coffee at Christmas vacation pick up, I secretly hoped she’d bake me a loaf of banana bread too.
Laura Fahrenthold is a New York City crime reporter and a content editor at Woman’s World Magazine. She has an upcoming book, “I’m Fine” to be released in June 2018, and writes about widowhood and parenting her eyeball rolling teenagers on her hit blog, www.LauraFahrenthold.com.
Karen Chee, a recent Harvard University graduate now working as a comedy writer and performer in New York, envisions Dayton as an “idyllic place for me and my writing” because it lacks “frantic, stressful distractions.”
They are the inaugural winners of “A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program” that drew applications from 401 hopeful writers in 44 states, the District of Columbia and five other countries.
As part of the package, Chee and Schoech will be flown as guests to the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which runs April 5-7, 2018. At the close of the workshop, they will remain at the Marriott at the University of Dayton for another two weeks to work on their proposed books of humorous essays. It’s the first trip to Dayton for both of them.
More than 50 preliminary judges, all established writers, narrowed the field to 10 finalists. Comedy legends Alan Zweibel and Laraine Newman, original writer and cast member of Saturday Night Live, reviewed those applications before selecting Chee and Schoech for the residency. All entries were blind judged. The other finalists (in alphabetical order) are:
Chanel Ali, Brooklyn, New York
Tracy Curtis, Charlotte, North Carolina
Deena Mendlowitz, Mayfield Village, Ohio
Valerie Nies, Austin, Texas
Margaux Hession, Santa Barbara, California
Jennifer Logue, Ponte Vedra, Florida
Keith Stewart, Hyden, Kentucky
Stacey Zapalac, Western Springs, Illinois
“I’m so impressed with all of the finalists’ submissions, and our two winners are just outstanding,” said Anna Lefler, a Los Angeles-based comic novelist and writer who underwrote and helped create and launch the program. “And it’s all upside for these two ladies because while serving as humorists-in-residence, they might also score a side gig as cater-waiters for the Marriott.”
Schoech is working on a collection of humorous essays, People Really Like Me, described as “the story of a middle-aged feminist bumbling through a middle-class adulthood filled with the usual signposts: kids, husband, mortgage and a medical marijuana prescription. It’s David Sedaris meets Amy Schumer. In Target. With a yeast infection.”
“I love this writer’s voice. It’s relatable, and her humanity is beautifully expressed,” wrote finalist judge Laraine Newman, a writer/performer, who’s written for LA Times Magazine, MsSweeney’s, Esquire and other publications.
While Schoech is a professional writer who’s written for magazines and edited two anthologies of humor essays, she quips she has “neither a book nor the adoration of my literary peers. Clearly the universe is against me. This residency would go a long way toward remedying that fact.”
Chee, who has written for The New Yorker, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Splitsider and HuffPost Comedy, is also working on a book of humorous personal essays. Her proposed book, I Probably Have Salmonella, “illuminates the quiet hilarity and joy found in every day life. From stories about getting kicked off a farm to tripping in front of my favorite Senator, this book will read like a conversation with a new, awkward best friend who’s maybe a little bit too honest.”
Chee, who interned for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” was recently named one of “New York City Comedians to Look Out for in 2018” by Mogul, a global platform for women. She dreams of writing comedy for a living and says she was inspired to write the book after reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants and David Sedaris’s Naked.
“Since then, I’ve been in love with the honesty and hilarity of nonfictional storytelling. To my chagrin but not my surprise, I learned that there are not many essay collections by people of color — even fewer by women of color. I really hope that my stories will be relatable to people for whom this delightful genre may feel inaccessible,” says Chee, who grew up in the San Francisco area.
Finalist judge Alan Zweibel, a prolific author who has written for TV and Broadway, agreed: “She has a unique and original point of view.”
Both winners reflect the aim of the residency to give a creative boost to writers, particularly emerging humor writers. Chee wants to “carry on the mantle as a woman in comedy writing,” while Schoech, a lifelong Erma Bombeck fan, wants to coax her book along after “perhaps a hot bath and room service.”
“I bought If Life is a Bowl of Cherries with my own money when I was 10,” Schoech remembers. “I didn’t even really get it, I just knew there was something awfully clever going on and I wanted to be part of it.”
He’s the editor and designer for the National Cartoonists Society Magazine and the University of Dayton Magazine, where he has worked for nearly 30 years. We’ll be posting his periodic cartoons here and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
A Facebook post the other day caught my attention. It was titled, “I SURVIVED.” “Share” if you did too was at the bottom of the post. I didn’t share the post, but I could have. Because I survived everything that was listed:
SPANKINGS. This was an easy one for me, because I never got one; not at home, not at school…not anywhere. Probably should have, but it never happened.
The nearest thing I got to a spanking happened in the 6th grade. I badly flunked a math test and the teacher wasn’t happy about it. When she asked me what I was thinking I said, “Well, I guess I just made some crazy mistakes.” This didn’t sit well with her. After telling me she didn’t want crazy people in her room, she proceeded to break a pencil over my head.
LEAD PAINT. I’m sure my baby crib was painted with lead paint, just like the window sills I chewed on, in our asbestos- insulated house.
SECOND-HAND SMOKE. I grew up in smoke-filled houses, smoked-filled restaurants, and inhaling second-hand smoke in second-hand cars.
NO SEAT BELTS. I remember riding with my mother to the grocery store when I was around six years old in the FRONT seat. I survived simply because she never hit anything. So did she. She lived to be almost 90 (so much for the second-hand smoke).
NO HELMETS. Helmets were not required back when I rode bikes. I had several accidents including hitting a tree head on. Arguably, I suffered no brain damage.
MERCURY. I used to break thermometers and play with the mercury. It was cool just watching it roll around in my hand. I don’t know how I disposed of it; or how many fish ended up dead.
NO EXPIRATION DATES. When I was growing up there were no expiration dates on anything. If the milk had soured, you poured it down the drain. If the bread had turned green you threw it out. Simply, if it didn’t look right or smell right, it was “out of date.” Today, everything has a “Use or Freeze By” date, or a “Best By…” date. Who needs common sense anymore?
DRINKING FROM THE HOSE. I remember drinking from the hose many times, especially after mowing the grass, or playing backyard football (without a helmet).
And drinking from the hose has no expiration date. But who cares. I’m drinking a bottle of water right now that expires on April 18, 2215. If second-hand smoke or mercury poisoning hasn’t caught up with me by then, I think I’ll tempt fate and drink the water on April 19, 2215. And just see what happens!
Raymond Reid is a national award-winning humor columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whenever I go food shopping, which is once in a blue moon, at which time I head directly to the beer aisle so I can buy a six-pack of Blue Moon, I accompany my wife, Sue, who clips coupons, knows what’s on sale and always carries a circular. This baffles me because circulars are rectangular, which is the admittedly feeble excuse I use for rarely going to the supermarket.
But I recently got a crash course in food shopping — the crash occurred when I hit another shopper’s cart with the one I was pushing — from Christine D’Angelo, a certified nutritional counselor.
I won a raffle for a free grocery excursion with Christine, who met me and Sue on a weekday evening after work at the store where Sue does her food shopping.
With Sue holding a rectangular circular and me pushing the cart, which in accordance with federal law had four wheels that all went in different directions, we set off with Christine, who brought budget shopping tips and a weekly meal plan for Sue and a Groucho Marx mask for me.
“Does this mean I have to buy animal crackers and duck soup?” I asked Christine, who should have gone with Harpo, the Marx Brother who didn’t talk.
I put the mask in the cart and we headed up the first aisle, where Christine gave us her top tip: “Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry.”
“I haven’t had dinner yet,” I said. “Would you mind if I nibble while we shop?”
“No, but you’ll have to pay for whatever you eat,” said Christine, who was on the last day of her three-day bone broth diet. “It cleans you out,” she explained. “No solid foods, only liquids.”
“I could do that with beer,” I said.
“Beer builds bodies,” acknowledged Christine, adding that women sometimes use it as shampoo. “We like it on our heads.”
“I don’t shampoo with beer,” I said, “but it goes to my head, too.”
Christine’s second tip: “Buy in bulk.
“If you buy too much food,” I pointed out, “you’ll end up being bulky.”
“Now you know why I don’t take him grocery shopping too often,” Sue said to Christine, who nodded sympathetically. Then she extolled the virtues of a Mediterranean diet because it saves money
“How could it save money,” I wondered, “when you’d have to travel to Italy every day?”
Christine, wisely ignoring the remark, continued: “Consider eating more natural foods. Go organic. We’re not made for synthetics.”
“I know,” I said. “Polyester is kind of chewy.”
“I like greens,” Sue said.
“That’s good,” Christine replied.
“Sue’s even married to a vegetable,” I noted.
Christine did not disagree. Instead, she gave us more tips: Buy seasonal produce, buy only what’s on your list, look for store brands.
“And,” she said, “look on the lowest shelf because food at eye level is the highest-priced.”
“What if I bent over and couldn’t straighten up?” I wondered.
“Then you’d save money every time you went shopping,” said Christine, who walked us through the condiment aisle and talked about the benefits of olive oil.
“You know who loves olive oil?” I asked.
“Popeye!” chirped Christine, referring to the sailor man’s girlfriend, Olive Oyl.
“Very good,” I said. “I’m impressed.”
I was even more impressed when Christine also talked about the benefits of organic beer.
“American beer contains ingredients that aren’t allowed in Europe,” she said, suggesting I try Spaten Optimator, a German brew. “You could be the terminator of the Optimator,” Christine said.
I put a six-pack in the cart and said, “It’s good to know I’ll not only be eating healthy, but drinking healthy, too.”
“You could even be shampooing healthy,” Christine said as she walked Sue and me to the checkout.
“Thank you,” said Sue, who already was an educated food shopper but appreciated Christine’s tips, expertise and, especially, patience in putting up with my stupid jokes.
“Tomorrow, when you come off your bone broth diet, you should have some organic beer,” I told Christine.
“Good idea,” she replied. “After shopping with you, I think I need it.”
— Jerry Zezima
I recently came across something called “The Marital Rating Scale” created by Dr. George Crane, a psychologist from the 1930’s. Dr. Crane interviewed 600 husbands on their wives’ positive and negative qualities and then assigned points for merits and demerits. A sample of the chart is below…
I thought perhaps it might be fun to take a look at some of the more interesting “demerits” for wives on Dr. Crane’s scale and see how I score.
DEMERITS FOR WIVES
#3 Fails to sew on buttons or darn socks regularly
True confessions here: I had to google “darn socks”. I mean, I’ve heard the term before, but I didn’t actually know what it meant. Clearly, I have failed in this department. Also, I have never sewn a button in my life. Ever. Probably because I somehow have never been alone in a button emergency. I mean, I have a mom that can sew a button, my friends can sew buttons and I married a guy that can sew a button. My 9 year old can sew a button. I just sort of discreetly leave the room when I suspect a potential button situation…I mean, it’s been 47 years, why break my streak now?
#25 Wears pajamas while cooking
Hmm…this one is a bit baffling. Does anyone really care what anyone who is cooking for them is wearing? You want to come to my house and cook for me? You can wear your ratty pajamas, you can wear a ballgown, you can wear a bathing suit, hell, you can wear your birthday suit, I really don’t care. I would just be forever grateful for one less endless meal to cook.
#18 Tells family affairs to casual acquaintances, too talkative
I suppose writing a blog about your family affairs for complete strangers to read and then posting it on social media would qualify me for a solid demerit on this one.
#7 Seams in hose often crooked/ripped
Finally, one I agree with! In fact, my hose is ripped right now and it’s super annoying because every time I go to water my hydrangeas I end up soaking wet. You are right Dr. Crane, a woman’s hose should not rip.
#35 Wears pajamas instead of nightgown
Wow…huge fail here. Here is a photo of the last nightgown I wore. Holly Hobbie from 1975. That nightgown was legit, I think it even came with a bonnet. Really, I don’t even wear matching pajamas. I wear flannel pajama pants, even in summer, and either my green Breakfast Club t-shirt or my gray t-shirt that says, “I like to party. And by party I mean read books.” I probably get extra demerits for having all that goin’ on.
Ok, enough with the demerits. Let’s see where I can rack up some favorable wifely points and look at the “merits” columns.
MERITS FOR WIVES
#25 Has pleasant voice-not strident
Well, according to Merriam-Webster, strident means loud and harsh. And I’m 100% Italian. So I guess no points here. Damn.
#36 Keeps husband’s clothes clean and pressed
I get a point! Well, half a point. I do wash his clothes. But pressed? Unfortunately, that would fall under the same category as the darning socks/sew a button situations.
#28 Writes often and lovingly when away from husband
Does this post count? I love you, B.
#41 Has minor children to care for (5)
Jackpot! I DO have minor children, three of them at 5 points each! 15 points for me. Shoot, I just realized that my oldest is 18 so she doesn’t count. Wait…she’s still a tax deduction, right??
#23 Reacts with pleasure and delight to marital congress (10)
Does “marital congress” mean what I think it means? Sex is worth 10 points? I’m in a bit of a pickle with this one…my children read my blog and if I award myself the points it’s possible they will die of mortification. On the other hand, if I don’t award myself the points, it’s possible my husband will. I’m pleading the 5th on this one.
#34 Good seamstress-can make her own clothes or the children’s clothes
I think we can safely assume from my button confession that this one doesn’t apply to me.
#7 Personally puts children to bed
Umm….yes. I mean, is there another way to do it? Is there like, a service you can call? What am I missing here?
#33 Often comments on husband’s strength and masculinity
Not really but I often ask him to reach things that I can’t. That’s kinda the same thing, right?
#21 Keeps snacks in refrigerator for late eating
I DO in fact, keep (well, hide) snacks, particularly my friends Ben & Jerry, buried underneath the frozen vegetables for MY late night eating. Does that count?
#20 Has a pleasant disposition in the morning – not crabby.
That depends. Did someone find and eat my Ben & Jerry’s?
#22 Likes educational and cultural things
Ugh. Honestly? I really don’t. I mean, I’ll watch Jeopardy every once and awhile but that’s about it. I don’t like NOVA, I don’t like documentaries, I don’t like concerts, I don’t much like theatre, and I pretty much go to museums out of obligation to raise culturally aware children. Wow, good thing I’m not writing a dating profile…I sound awful.
So I’m not sure exactly how many points I’ve scored but it ain’t looking good. It has become painfully obvious that I would make a pretty crappy 1930’s housewife, at least according to Dr. Crane. But since being a 1930’s housewife seems like a worse job than being an armpit sniffer (it exists) I’m not too devastated.
Janene Dutt resides on a small island in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three children. Her hobbies are baking, gardening, and extreme couponing. She suffers from Pediculophobia, the fear of lice. When she’s not blogging, you can find her combing through her family’s hair. Check out her adventures at www.imightbefunny.com.
How about tickets to one of the Human Race Theatre Company’s four special preview performances of Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End in Erma’s hometown?
These performances are running April 19-22, 2018, in the intimate, 54-seat performance space at the Caryl D. Philips Creativity Center, 116 N. Jefferson St. in downtown Dayton. Thanks to the generosity of the Human Race Theatre Company, a portion of the ticket price for these performances will benefit the endowment fund of the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. In addition, if patrons mention the Erma performances when purchasing holiday gift cards, Uno Pizzeria and Grill will donate 10 percent of any proceeds between now and Dec. 31 to the endowment fund.
VIP tickets are $50 for the 8 p.m. opening preview on Thursday, April 19, which includes a meet-and-greet reception with actress Jennifer Joplin after the play at Uno, 126 N. Main St. Mingle with the star of the one-woman show and enjoy light refreshments and a cash bar. Tickets for the remaining 8 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday are $30.
Tickets can be purchased for the preview performances by calling 937-228-3630 and using the code ERMA18 or clicking on this special link.
Human Race Resident Artist Jennifer Joplin stars as the literary icon whose candid commentary on life as a woman, spouse and mother made her the champion of suburban housewives everywhere and her newspaper columns a mainstay on kitchen refrigerators for more than 30 years. Full of personal anecdotes and sprinkled with plenty of Erma’s famous one-liners, it’s a charming biography that proves “if you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”
Written by Allison Engel and Margaret Engel and directed by Heather N. Powell, the play officially opens Thursday, April 26 and runs through May 13. Ticket prices are $25. The show runs 60 minutes, without an intermission.
Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, playing on stages around the country, is bringing Erma’s wit and humanity to a new generation. Click here to find out where else you can catch this can’t-miss one-woman show between now and June 2018.
We baby boomers can’t make such a claim to our grandkids. Get real: our lives were a piece of cake compared to the millenniums. We flew through our homework, rarely encountered any kind of bullying — and, though we survived some chaotic history in the 1960s, I recall no school shootings.
Oh, kids, don’t let me commence.
Okay, ‘tis time to jump off the soapbox and lighten up. My trials rest not in the past but rage on in the now. As a throwback to a simpler time, I have suddenly found myself in a world of insufferable complications. How do the millenniums do it?
As I ride the subways, I observe billboard ads that contain such ambiguities that I haven’t a clue as to the message. And it doesn’t help that the font’s so tiny that most old codgers like moi need a magnifying glass.
When I drop in to see a movie, those ads also baffle me. I’m talking about the coming attractions of today. Images flash like corn popping, at such a jet-speed pace that I am left struggling with several questions, including: What the hell is the name of this upcoming flick, who the hell’s in it and what on earth is it about?
As I stroll the streets of Manhattan, I’m bewitched, bothered, bewildered and delayed by all the sidewalk “scholars.” Half of the Big Apple residents look like they’re on drugs as they saunter down the streets reading their stupid smart phones. And that’s not just the millenniums. My own precious peer group cronies stare at their phones trancelike, many taking a tumble as they lose their balance. No wonder the Chinese call smart phones “digital heroin.”
My frustrations with millennial protocols extend to gathering materials for my writing profession. I recently asked a young employee at a stationary store to show me where the typing paper could be found. A blank expression filled his face: “We don’t have anything like that these days,” he said.
“You’re mistaken,” I told him. “I bought it last month. Someone’s moved it.”
We checked with several other millenniums meandering about the store. None had ever heard of typing paper. When I finally spotted it on my own, I called the clerk over and showed him.
“That’s not typing paper,” he said. “I’ve never actually used one, but I’ve seen pictures of a typewriter. Didn’t typing paper come all rolled up?”
“Oh, now I see,” I said. “Well, strip my gears and call me shiftless, nowadays it’s labeled multi-purpose printing paper. Duh.”
Each of the young’uns stared at the old geezer as if I were a ghost. As I noted their bugging eyes, I swept away into the afternoon with my so-called printing paper, wishing I had been wearing a cape to make my departure more dramatic.
It’s not their fault, ya know. When oh when will I become new-fashioned? I’m beyond being simply a late bloomer. Heavens to Betsy, I’m just now getting around to sporting hippy hair. Fifty years after my peers did it. When I wear my hair over my ears, millenniums have mistaken me for everything from a Carnegie Hall conductor, to a has-been rock star to a hobo.
I never used recreational drugs but, after periodically spending three hours on my land phone with my health insurance people, I can assure you I desperately crave whatever drugs they’ll finally approve. And then some.
Presently, I have to perform a mental arm-wrestling feat just to get my anxiety meds refilled. Why oh why oh why-oh? It’s not a narcotic. Well it isn’t. It isn’t. And I’m not a neurotic. Well I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.
Today’s insurance agents request everything from my social security number, to the name of my first goldfish to the date of my mother-in-law’s hysterectomy.
All this to refill an anxiety medication. What will happen when I need Viagra? Ah, don’t laugh. I may be a late-blooming boomer, but I’m also a steaming hot sexual being. A hippy-come-lately with blazing loins. Dagnabbit, I’m still trying to find myself.
Oh, kids, don’t let me commence.
— 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.