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

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

O Caftan! My Caftan!

Peyton PriceO Caftan! My Caftan!

My fearful search is done.

I pawed through every discount rack,

the prize I sought is won.

I hate my rear, my belly’s queer,

my thighs are just revolting,

while follow eyes across the beach,

string bikinis baring.

O my heart! Ignore those tarts

in flowing yards of zen.

What underneath my caftan lies

they’ll never see again.

— Peyton Price, with apologies to Walt Whitman and everyone, really.

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind the Picket Fence. You can find her tripping over her caftan at suburbanhaiku.com.

Reclaiming full-price love

Alona MartinezI found him: the mysterious man who was supposed to seduce me, the aspiring novelist, while on a weekend hiatus from my husband and two kids. He was, of all places, in Nordstrom Rack.

This man was tall, freakishly tall. His dark, curly hair and broad shoulders soared above the sea of men’s dress trousers. I was across the store in the lingerie department, tangled amongst discounted lace.

Mr. Handsome wore an olive green linen shirt with pockets and tortoise shell buttons that teased their way down his lanky torso. There were wrinkles at the waistline. Had someone’s arm been wrapped around him, gently pushing creases into his strong frame just moments before? He smelled of musk, I was sure of it. And sweat.  Not too much that one would turn away, but just enough to announce: I am a man, take note. He stood there holding a pair of black slacks. The weathered jeans that hung on his lean waist were nicer. Someone is making him buy those slacks, I thought to myself. Some woman.

Maybe a voluptuous blonde lover awaits him back in the hotel, lying exhausted amongst crumpled sheets reminiscing the two, three, no, four moments of ecstasy he had brought her to earlier in the afternoon. She had insisted on the pants for their next role-playing adventure. Or a stern Slavic femme fatale, with ivory skin and legs that never end (especially in those Alexander McQueen crocodile boots) demanded a classier look and he, of course, complies. He likes to keep his woman happy.

I toss the bras into my basket and gravitate towards him. My eyes are locked on his jaw: it is a beautiful jaw, perfectly sculpted and covered in three-day stubble, a look I tend to find annoying on most men but alluring on him. I know this man was put in this store for me, to make up for the slimy, arrogant, pot-bellied men that have tried shamelessly to pick me up before, but I can’t quite gather the nerve to tell him this, so I hide behind Mabinty, the Jamaican sales clerk rearranging high/low tees. From the safe cloud of her ambrosial perfume, I stare and wait for him to fetch me.

Our eyes lock momentarily and there is a short-circuit spark of energy. His murky, laid-back hazels are caught off-guard by the intense purpose of my blues. There’s no bullshit in that transaction. No small talk. You’re mine. I’ll wait, I signal. He meets my challenge with a small, sideways smile. You’re on, beautiful. The blood pulses through me making me blush. And he hasn’t even touched me. But Mabinty did. I had apparently bumped into her exhibit of One Rad Girl longsleeves.

“Wha’appen’, ma’am?  We got de nice tops today!” she sang while shoving a particularly potent turquoise number in my face. “Bit pricey but worth every penny, dear!”

“Nice…yes, lovely…” I fumbled.

“Take it, take it, it look lovely wit your eyes. Make Husband happy, ya?”

Oh, Husband… ya. Images of him flooded my mind. Come to think of it, Husband was tall. Not freakishly tall but just right. And that olive shirt, the one I’d been gazing at on this guy, why, that looked just like the shirt Husband wore the first time we met years ago on an arid farm in the Venezuelan plains. I remember because that color looked delectable against his butterscotch skin. There were buttons and pockets everywhere, too (it was the ’80s), but even such a Safari fashion statement couldn’t dampen the beauty of his broad shoulders. I had looked at them and allowed myself to dream: those shoulders will hold up my children, one day. And now, years later, they have.

The stranger waited for my next move. He turned around casually to glance at a turtleneck he had seemingly forgotten to admire. His ass was bony. A bit too bony.  Damn, no one has an ass like my husband, I found myself recognizing. And was that a balding spot peering under this dude’s curls? No one has a full head of hair like my man either. Still jet black, too.

Mabinty was waiting for my next move as well. Would I go for the full-price or head over to the peruse the discount section, over there by Men’s? I grabbed the shirt from her two-inch-long fuchsia nails.

“You’re right.  I will make Husband happy,” I announced, suddenly missing him terribly.

Mabinty smiled, her gold tooth sparkling under the fluorescent light. She gazed at the Men’s Department and nodded in agreement.

“Ya… it’s a little more but it’s worth it,” she said, her eyes glazing over and taking her far away. “Come wit me, I check you out over by lingerie, dear.”

She linked her arm in mine, as we turned our backs on the sulking stranger, leading my new turquoise T-shirt and I back on track.

— Alona Martinez

Alona Martinez has been writing life stories since she was a distracted fourth grade student in Mrs. Edinger’s class. Multiplication tables couldn’t hold a candle to what was going on in her head. Since then she’s published articles in numerous papers and writes about family and food on her blog, Culinary Compulsion. She is currently working on her first book. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Sex Ed 101

Anne BardsleyWhen our kids were in elementary school, we attempted to keep the channels of communication open. “Any questions, just ask us and we’ll tell you the truth…about ANYTHING.” That was our motto. We hoped we had a few years before they actually asked those questions, but not so the case.

At dinner one night as I cut into my steak, our 8-year-old daughter asked, “What’s a condom?” I almost choked.

I pretended to chew a long time so my husband would answer the question. After all, it was his idea we tell them to ask us anything. So here was his big fat chance. He gulped. He looked at me. I signaled that my mouth was full. He needed to take this one. I gave him a thumbs-up signal. He was on his own. I stuffed another piece of steak into my mouth. Slowly I chewed. Our 12- and 14-year-old boys looked on with curious amusement while kicking each other under the table.

“A condom is something a man uses when he has sex with a woman to prevent pregnancy,” he stated like an encyclopedia.

“Well, how does that work?” they wanted to know.

“The man puts the condom on his penis so the sperm can’t get out.” My 10-year-old daughter turned green. “Then she can’t have a baby,” he finished. He looked quite proud of himself.

My daughters both stopped chewing, and their eyeballs popped out. He continued. Why was he continuing? This was enough! “It also prevents STD,” he said matter of fact. My daughter wrinkled her face.

“Dad, that doesn’t make sense,” she protested. “Sure it does.

“What is STD?”

“Sexually Transmitted Disease,” he answered. Were they beads of sweat on his brow? “Syphilis is one,” he muttered. Oh, he needed to stuff steak in his mouth RIGHT NOW!

“What does that mean? How do you know if you catch that ‘Sniffilis’?”

Their forks were in mid-motion waiting for his response. I immediately stuffed a big potato in my mouth. I looked like a chipmunk. Naturally, I couldn’t talk with my mouth full.

“You can only catch that disease if you have sex without a condom. You don’t have to worry about it. You are too young to have sex.”

“Yeah, but I don’t understand how the condom does this stuff. Is it like magic?”

“No the man puts it on his penis before they have sex.”

My 6-year-old son perked up, “Put what where?” That is so gross!” The two older boys were snorting now.

My daughter said, “I am never going to her house!”

“Whose house?” I asked, totally confused.

Steffy is moving into a condom and I am never going there. That is just disgusting!”

I came to the rescue and explained a condominium is nothing like a condom. Of course she could still go to Steffy’s new house.

“Forget what your father just said,” I told them.

Hands were raised to ask more questions, but my husband told them that was enough information for one dinner. We could discuss more next year at our annual “Ask Us Anything” meeting.

I just kept chewing.

— 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.

Is that a banana in your book drop?
Or are you just happy to see me?

Life holds plenty of surprises, especially when you work at a public library. Last week, for instance, we found a banana in the book drop.  Naturally, I logged onto my favorite librarian Facebook group to share the news.  Roz Warren

The first response?

Curious George strikes again!

Then: We once found a melted banana split in ours.

After which my fellow librarians began posting about the items they’d found over the years in their own book drops:

A full diaper.

A dead rabbit.

An empty wine bottle.

A used condom.

We found underpants in ours yesterday. At least they were clean.

A banana was beginning to sound like a relatively delightful book find. Reports of more discoveries poured in:

A slice of bacon.

A cell phone.

An empty soda can.

A live lobster.

A laptop.

An ice cream sandwich. Thankfully it was winter, so it hadn’t melted.

A coffee maker. People be crazy.

As the comments continued, I began to wonder. Was there anything that HADN’T been left in a library book drop?

A dead fish.

A live chicken!

A small tub of unopened cottage cheese.

A cat.

A bra.

A dirty love letter! (And yes, we all read it.)

In my own workplace, a lit joint in the book drop is not unheard of.

As librarians warmed to the topic, book drop discoveries came in fast and furious:

A frog!

Pancake syrup.

A lizard.

An unopened box of sanitary pads.

An open box of Bisquick.

A full bottle of Jim Beam.

A bag of grapes.

A carton of eggs.

One of my co-workers used to get gifts in the book drop from a secret admirer.

Think that working in a library is all sunshine and roses? Contemplate these book drop finds and think again:

A dead bird in a shoe box with a note threatening the life of our library mascot, a Cockatiel.

Seventeen snakes.

A finger. Yes, an actual finger. We never found out whose. And it was my first week on the job.

Gravel. And ground beef. We thought somebody had been murdered. We had to throw every book in the drop away.

A severed foot. Thankfully, plastic. Obviously someone’s idea of a joke.

Library patrons can be mysterious:

We once found a wrapped Subway sandwich in the book drop. Later that week, we also found one on the shelves. Weird.

Nothing odd in our book drop yet. But someone once put a hot dog in our suggestion box.

Somebody just left a deer head on our roof.

Last week somebody removed a garden gnome from a nearby house and put it in our book drop.

Some folks just don’t deserve a book drop:

My library got rid of our book drop the second time it was set on fire.

Some idiot poured gasoline in ours. Now we have security cameras.

Our book drop was destroyed. We don’t know who did it, but we came to work one morning to find that somebody had beat the living hell out of it.

We removed the book drop from our middle school library after the first wad of gum was deposited. Now the kids have to return books in the drop slot at the circ desk. #nasty. #notpaidenough #peoplecanbegross.

Finally? Librarians would like to remind you that Real Patriots don’t include the library book drop in their celebration of our nation’s birth:

If we don’t close our drop over July 4th weekend, people put fire crackers in it.

Library life is full of discovery. And when it comes to the book drop, it seems, anything is possible! Which is why I’m hoping that the next time I open ours, I’ll find it packed with hundred dollar bills. Or Oreo cookies. I’d even settle for that lit joint.

A librarian can dream, can’t she?

— Roz Warrem

Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor. This essay first appeared on www.zestnow.com.

Clear your throat and learn a new language

 

Judi VeoukasThere’s a popular radio commercial that asks listeners something like this: “Would you rather spend your money to acquire a new language or to acquire more stuff?”

At my age my ability to retain anything I learn is so low, I’d rather acquire more stuff.

However, I already know another language, one ingrained in me as a child: Yiddish.

My bubbe (grandmother), the one from the Old Country, spoke Yiddish to my mother and vice versa, particularly when they didn’t want me to understand their exchanges. I wouldn’t call it pure Yiddish, just sort of Yid-glish.

Bubbe didn’t have much to do. There were no goats to shoo out of our Chicago apartment as there had been in her Eastern European hovel, so she occupied herself by tattling on me. I’d often hear, “Julie is schlecht.” (Schlecht, with its guttural cht, means bad.)

Apparently, she had no idea my name was actually Judi. I ultimately understood, though, that whatever name she called me, I should run for cover if schlecht ended her sentence. Nine times out of ten, a spanking would follow schlecht. It wasn’t a great word for me.

However, I heard many great Yiddish words as a youngster.

One of my favorites is machatunim, pronounced mah-chah-too-neem. (The “chah” is enunciated like a cat hacking up a fur ball.) Machatunim are your in-laws’ extended family.

Here’s why I like the word. For example, a holiday is approaching and of course you have to invite your machatunim because how could you not? Perhaps some of them are insufferable bores. Instead of making up excuses for why they are present, all you need explain to your other company is that these people are machatunim. Your other company — well, those who know what the word machatunim means — will shake their heads in sad agreement.

Of course, most machatunim are perfectly lovely people, who, thanks to several of our own children, are now our ex-machatunim.

Machatunim should not be confused with mishpucha (mish-paw–cha). Note: the cat-fur-ball-hacked-up “cha” is back again. Mishpucha means your own extended family. Once upon a time mishpucha also meant those people who took care of all your needs. Now we have Amazon.

One of my not-so-favorite words, but still a great term, is shmutz (schmootz). Schmutz means not-serious dirt, but in my family it was often bandied about in this manner. Bubbe would announce to me, “You have schmutz on your punim (face), Julie.”

A specific ritual followed that statement. Bubbe would stick her index finger in her mouth, take the wet digit out, and use it to rub the shmutz off my face. This was especially embarrassing when she rose from her seat, wet her finger, and rubbed my face as I walked down the aisle into my first holy matrimony.

My final great Yiddish word is ongepotchket (oon-ga-potch-kit). It’s Yiddish for, among other things, a hodgepodge of ugly items you don’t need, or in today’s vernacular, a “hot mess.” My husband, who is not Jewish, loves this word more than any other I’ve taught him. Every time we hear the commercial that asks if we need to learn a new language or acquire more stuff, I shout, “More stuff!”

He just grins at me with an air of satisfaction, clears his throat and says, “Our house is already ongepotchket.”

I’m not teaching him any more words.

— Judi Veoukas

Judi Veoukas started writing at age nine, when she penned greeting cards and sold a few for a nickel at her grandpa’s shiva, much to the consternation of her mother. Sadly, counting inflation, she is not earning much more as a writer now. Still her love of writing is equaled only by her love of chocolate. When she isn’t downing chocolate, she writes a humor column for two Chicago suburban newspapers, Lake County Suburban Life and Barrington Life, and submits to Funny Times (and has actually appeared in it twice). Much to her delight, she won an Illinois Press Association prize three times.  She was also a writing tutor for seven years at a community college with a varied curriculum. However, she couldn’t resist the desire to have students add humor to their papers. Assuring a student in “Intro to Surgical Technology” that humor would spice up his paper proved to be her undoing. Now she mostly hides in her office at home.

Caitlyn Jenner joins crowded Republican field running for president

Charles HartleyMy Fellow Americans:

Today I announce my candidacy, as a member of the Republican Party, for President of the United States in 2016. I hereby join the 48 other Republicans who have announced they are running for the Oval Office this election cycle.

For most of my life I have been a Democrat. This has been my public persona. But I have been untruthful to who I am in my heart of hearts. I am a Republican and I can’t hold this inside myself any longer.

I feel an uncontrollable urge to come out now with this personal news about my political bent. It’s time to switch, come home to my inner being.

There are three reasons why I want to be President:

First, I want to be the first to be born as a man who wins the Olympic Gold Medal in the Decathlon and then — 43 years later — reveals he wants to be a woman and has since he was a grade schooler. Being the first to do anything is always a plus, and this switch from man to woman is one of my competitive differentiators in the political market place. If you don’t have anything to sell, even if it’s not worth anything to anyone but yourself, you shouldn’t be a politician.

There are too many dishonest people in this world who go around being someone they are not. This country needs a President who stands for something and lives that belief. In my case that just happens to be that I was born a man and have in recent months begun a full-blown transition to become a woman. Not a man without a cause as is the main affliction of all the other candidates, I believe in my cause. It feels true to me and that’s all that matters.

The second reason I want to be President is so I can bring a new type of celebrity status to the highest office in the land. Whereas most Presidents get boring cover stories written about them in Time magazine and U.S. News and World Report, as President I will reach deeper into the mainstream of Americana. You can already see evidence of my pursuit in the most recent edition of Vanity Fair magazine where I am pictured on the cover. Have you seen me in my white dress and woman’s hair-do? Considering I’m really a man, I’m a pretty attractive woman.

While campaigning for the office, my media plan is to get more pictures of myself on covers of other magazines particularly tabloids and others you can buy off the rack near the grocery store at your local supermarket. The more magazine covers I get on, the more exposure it will get me. Any press is good press even if it’s because you’re a former Olympic Decathlete Gold Medal winner who grew a pony tail while the ne’er-do-well father on the Kardashians reality TV show, which was inspired by Satan. Yes, I have come out now as a woman and the press is eating my story for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the Republican candidates are thrashing about. They’re talking about mundane issues such as border control, health care, and global warming. Americans are bored by those guys. They want to elect a man who becomes a woman and poses on covers of magazines in provocative poses.

My third reason for wanting to be President is so I can influence global social policies. The world is a different place than it was when I won the Decathlon in 1972. Those were simpler times. Since then the world has become more complicated. We need a President who is complicated. Complex problems can only be solved by a President who stands above everyone else in psychological and emotional complexity. I am that guy.

In the upcoming Republican debates, tune in to watch me. I will stand out in my dresses compared with all the suits standing at the podiums. Don’t worry what I say. Just check out how I look.

Sincerely,
Caitlyn Bruce Jenner

— 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.

A new home

Tracy BeckermanNationally syndicated humor columnist and author Tracy Beckerman has joined TAPinto.net.

Tracy Beckerman writes the syndicated humor column, LOST IN SUBURBIA® which is carried by over 400 newspapers and more than 250 websites and reaches an audience of nearly 10 million readers in 25 states.  She is also the author of two books, “Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir. How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself, and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs” and “Rebel without a Minivan: Observations on Life in the ‘Burbs.” In addition to her column, Beckerman writes for Huffington Post Comedy and is a contributing columnist for Blogher.com.

Tracy has made frequent TV appearances including The Today Show, Live From the Couch,The CBS Early Show, The Balancing Act on Lifetime, Good Day New York, LX New York, and CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, to name a few, as well as numerous radio and print interviews speaking about motherhood and life in the ‘burbs.  She also does stand-up comedy and has appeared at venues including The Comic Strip Live in NYC and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton.

In 2010 she was voted “America’s Top Blogger” by The Balancing Act on Lifetime Television, and in 2011, she won a National Society of Newspaper Columnists award for humor writing. In 2014, Tracy was the Global Humor Award Winner of the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. Additionally, she is a past recipient of a Writer’s Guild of America Award and won a New York EMMY® for writing. Tracy is a three-time faculty member of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and is the vice president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She is also vice president of the education foundation of the NSNC and a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Regarding her new alliance with TAPinto.net, Beckerman said, “I’m truly thrilled to join TAPinto, the premiere online local newspaper in New Jersey. As a longtime New Providence resident, which also happens to be the birthplace of TAP, I’m especially excited to call TAP my new home. I’m looking forward to finding all the funny, ironic and uniquely absurd parts of being Lost in Suburbia and sharing them with the TAP readers each week.”

Michael Shapiro, CEO and publisher of TAPinto.net, said, “We are honored to have Tracy Beckerman join the TAPinto family. Since TAPinto.net is a network of online local newspaper franchises which are primarily owned and operated by women, many of whom are stay-at-home moms, Beckerman’s writing about being a stay-at-home mom and reinventing oneself particularly resonates with us. Tracy has a genuine gift for writing, and we are excited that she will now be sharing that gift with our 3.6 million readers.”

TAPinto.net, formerly TheAlternativePress.com, was founded by New Providence, N.J., residents Michael and Lauryn Shapiro, is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association and currently has over 3.6 million readers. The all-online hyperlocal news site boasts more than 50 columnists, a full-service community calendar, business directory and local real estate listings. The public can friend TAPinto.net on Facebook at Facebook.com/tapintolocal and can follow TAPinto.net on Twitter at Twitter.com/tapintolocal.

In addition, TAPinto.net is currently offering franchise opportunities in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Anyone interested in starting an online newspaper in their town is invited to click here for more information.

 

Defending America’s back-up underwear supply

Con ChapmanIt was an offhand comment, really.  If my head had been turned, I probably wouldn’t have heard it, but it wasn’t, so I did.  During a break in a long business meeting, a guy sitting across the table from me happened to let slip that he keeps a complete set of backup underwear — boxers, socks and undershirt — in his office.

I looked at the guy, and he looked back at me.  It was like the scene in Casablanca when the Nazis start singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” and Victor Laszlo asks the band to play ”La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.  he bandleader looks to Humphrey Bogart, playing Rick Blaine, who gives him the nod. Beneath the cynical exterior, we know whose side Rick is on.

Nations at peace traditionally prepare for the inevitability of war by stockpiling assets of critical importance, or supporting their production. The United States, for example, maintains an emergency fuel store of oil, known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We also subsidize mohair, so our boys in uniform will never be embarrassed as they climb out of a muddy trench half a world away to find that their outfit is tragically unfashionable.

Either that, or face a fast-talking, slow-walking, good-looking Mohair Sam, as Charlie Rich sang about — unarmed.

Canada, you may be surprised to learn, maintains a strategic reserve of maple syrup, which reached a high-syrup mark of 60 million pounds in 2004. No sneak attack by Al Qaeda is ever going to leave Canadians’ waffles and pancakes dry — no sirree bob!

But underwear reserves have historically slipped beneath the fabric of American life, to put it both literally and figuratively. At least one mother I know — mine — used to carry an extra set on long airplane flights to Hawaii. You never know when you’re going to overshoot Oahu and end up on a South Pacific island where underwear consists of palm leaves, tastefully arranged.

My underwear reserve, and that of my newfound brother under the skin across the table, is maintained for similarly practical reasons.  We both work out in the morning, and when you pack your bag the night before it is sometimes easy to forget a pair of socks, an undershirt or underpants while you’re contemplating how cute your wife looks in her Chilly Penguin Footed Pajamas. When you do, you have to walk around the office showing bare ankles, for example, while you wait for the nearest department store to open at 10 a.m.

“What’s with the no socks?” your boss asks. “That’s the look the well-dressed gentleman will be wearing this spring,” you say blithely as you walk down the hall while making mental calculations of the amount you’ll save on taxes next year when your salary goes down!

No, in these perilous economic times, it behooves every American breadwinner to keep an extra set of underwear on hand at the office.  Even if you don’t work out in the morning, what if the liquid natural gas tanker outside your window explodes, leaving you stranded downtown at the same time that it destroys all available underwear reserves in the surrounding metropolitan statistical area? Then where would you be?

I think you know the answer to that question.

And in answer to your other question — no, you can’t borrow my underwear.

— 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.

Reflections of Erma