Nobility is often born, but it does not always happen the way you might think. Certainly one can be born into a noble house. (One can have nobility conferred upon oneself, but that’s not really being born is it?) As I discovered this last week, however, there is another way nobility is created, and as in tales of old, mine involve cunning, dedication and even a dragon.
Once upon a time a few years ago, the Big Guy and I opened our oil bill and, after finding out no one wanted to buy our used body parts, designed a house that didn’t need oil or propane. We ended up building a cave — a house buried on three sides, powered mostly by sun and heated by our Kitchen Queen.
To the casual observer, Kitchen Queen may look like an ordinary cast-iron wood cookstove, but she is really a dragon. Now, you may not know this because dragons get a bad rap in a lot of books and movies, but most of them — such as Kitchen Queen’s black-and-chrome variety — are actually quite friendly. Kitchen Queen, for example, keeps a fire burning in her belly, usually using it to heat our water and bake goodies.
Once in a while, however, the gremlins that live in our utility room get restless, and the water in Kitchen Queen’s heating box fails to circulate. She builds up steam, and then (she’s a very lady-like dragon) she’ll blow off the steam in a long low squeal (she swears it’s a burp).
Last weekend the gremlins got restless.
The sun was setting when a few bubbly burps escaped Kitchen Queen. We figured she would blow off a little steam and then the water would circulate again and all would be well, so we went back to cartoons. Kitchen Queen burped again and then fell to grumbling about something. Suddenly she roared and blasted the wall with steam from her backside.
The Big Guy rose from the recliner, trying to soothe Kitchen Queen for a moment before arming himself with a screwdriver and charging into the utility room. An accomplished DIY-er, the Big Guy fearlessly flipped switches and pushed buttons on the machinery that converts sun to electricity and the gadgets that pull water from the well to the house.
Back he went to Kitchen Queen to see what was causing her to alternately circulate water and then hold it to convert to steam, but his close inspection offended her sensibilities, and instead of a burp, this time she wet her pants. All over the kitchen floor. Seriously. There was a two-inch-deep puddle from one end of the kitchen to the other.
Ironically, the gremlins had rendered us not powerless but waterless. Thus began a series of labors so terrifying even Hercules would have thought twice (the Big Guy even had to get out the owner’s manuals). The pump in our well was disabled, but the Big Guy soon realized the real test would be keeping toilets flushing and family mentally sound as we waited for the parts for the repair to arrive.
For the better part of a week, he hauled wood with 14-year-old Thing1 and water from a neighbor’s house with the aid of 8-year-old Thing2. (Still hobbling with a cane, I offered little but financial support). Without complaint and surviving on rations of oatmeal and microwaved dinners on paper plates, the Big Guy nurtured the family spirits while navigating the logistics of waterlessness and getting up for work at the usual time.
It was near nightfall when the part arrived a week later, and the Big Guy and the plumber pulled out the well pump for a repair that took less than a couple hours. The plumber left, and the Big Guy pushed buttons and flipped switches until the gremlins were thoroughly vanquished. We fed and watered Kitchen Queen and celebrated victory with scalding showers.
In honor of Big Guy’s pluck last week, I created (birthed, if you will) a new noble rank: Unholy Order of the Eternal Missing Sock. I immediately indulged in a bit of nepotism and conferred the knightly (that’s a word, right?) title of ‘Sir Big Dad’ on the Big Guy. Now as we happily take hot showers for granted again, I’m more sure than ever that there is courage — and even nobility — in laughing through the everyday battles that keep a family going when they’re ready to tear out their very dirty hair.
As a great philosopher once said, “You might think I’m a nut case, but I’m not the only one.” And, if your family, like a good candy bar, has one or two nuts in it that have kept you going through a domestic disaster, you might be ready to join us. Mismatched socks optional.
— Rachel Barlow
Blogger Rachel Barlow describes herself as “a midlife crisis waiting to happen, closet nomad and middle-aged work-at-home-mother of two.” Her life is “wrapped up in peanut butter sandwiches, fat (sometimes losing it), bills and blogging (her way) to sanity.”
Go to your local convenience store and buy a bunch of food that everyone keeps reminding you should not eat. Start with Munchos. Augment those with a Family Pack of Twizzlers, Double Stuffed Oreos and Orange Sunkist Soda. Also get some Hostess Ho Hos and a five Mounds Candy Bars.
To kill time, have a chat with the cashier while you’re making your purchase.
“Hey, the weather’s getting better, isn’t it,” you say. “What a winter we had. I thought the world was ending. I thought we were going to freeze to death and meet on the other size in some heavenly igloo. At the event we would all drink frozen lemonade and suck on ice pops. Hey, you guys sell ice pops?”
This conversation won’t take too long and the Final Four lasts about six hours. So ask the cashier several questions. “So, when you were in sixth grade, did you prefer social studies over math? Depending on your answer, give three supporting reasons including an example for each.” The cashier should take about four or five minutes to answer this after, of course, asking you why you’re asking those types of questions of him and him explaining that there’s a line of people behind you he needs to serve and this isn’t really time to talk about it.
“Hey, buddy,” the gruff-smelly-in-faded- blue jeans man behind you will say. “Stop asking the cashier stupid questions. I need to get my Lime Flavored Tostitos and Chips Ahoy and get to my house to watch the Final Four. You’re holding me up. This is the biggest sporting event of the year if you don’t count the Super Bowl. I don’t have time to wait in line because some guy in front of me is asking a cashier essay questions about sixth grade academics.”
“You, sir, don’t get it,” you will say. “You will be more entertained by this conversation than watching the same teams and coaches that go to the Final Four all the time play again this year. The Final Four will be a bore, a big fat snore, shut the door. It always is when teams like Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State make it there. There is nothing that irks me more in sports than when these same schools, the same wives, the same coaches, the same alumni get to have big parties with chips and dips in Final Four hotels year after year. They get to go to a disproportionately high and unfair amount of partying compared with alumni from colleges such as mine. We never go to the Final Four. Partying at the Final Four should be spread around, not hoarded by the elite few.”
“Dude,” the guy behind you will say, “get out of my way. I am buying my junk food and you’re bugging me.”
He shoves you away from the front of the line. You will allow him to get his food and go to his house. This whole convenience store episode will have lasted 23 minutes.
To kill the rest of the five and half hours until the Final Bore is over, you will have to figure out two more things to do. These will have to each kill a lot more than 23 minutes. Otherwise you will have to figure out about 10 things to do to kill time until your March Madness dies its slow death.
Being ambitious, you should drive your car for two hours in any direction. Ideally someplace you have never been so when you try to get home you will get lost. Just drive. Meander in your car in the direction away from your house and the TV where those basketball games will be torturing you even as you don’t watch them.
You will wail in the car to yourself: “Oh, the parties I’m missing with my college friends because my college never makes the Final Four. Imagine the wine, women and song we never get to enjoy.”
Ideally, this aimless driving will take you to someplace where there is a good pulled pork barbecue sandwich to buy. Look around for such a restaurant. Maybe see if you can tell from the road if a convenience store seems like the type that would make you a pulled pork sandwich. Most of them don’t. So you are likely to fail in this pursuit but time will elapse, and that’s your main objective.
Just keep searching for a pork Sammy until two hours have passed into the history books. Then start driving back to where you think your house is. But don’t use a GPS or map. Don’t talk to Siri. Just drive. Guess which roads to take. Purposely take the turns that your gut tells you are wrong. This is bound to devour time and make your drive back home take even longer.
As you find yourself getting more lost, you will know you have completed your second task to kill time during the Final Four.
Plow on to step three: While on this drive, stop in at a hotel, preferably a seedy one where you suspect you might get mugged. Get a room for a few hours. Sit on the bed, grab the remote and turn on the TV. Whatever you do, don’t go to the Final Four channel. Watch Judge Judy if she’s on. Or search around for some cool Hawaii surfing competition. Or even better, fire up the “Weather Channel” and find out what’s going on with the weather around the country including your neck of the woods. This should mesmerize you for a few hours.
Fall asleep, by accident. Wake up whenever. Rub your sleepy eyes. Be discombobulated about where you are. Feel enriched you missed the Final Four.
Stand up and dance around the room singing, “Victory, victory, victory.”
You won the national championship.
— 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.
It was a nice gesture, but hopelessly misguided. I was able to use the occasion as a “teaching moment.” The three big lies of our time, I told him, are ”The check’s in the mail,” “Of course I’ll respect you in the morning,” and “One size fits all.” There is no way, I told him, a one-size-fits-all hat is going to fit me — because I’m one of the big-headed people.
I have a big head literally and, in some areas of expertise, such as the wisecracks by economist Thorstein Veblen and the lyrics of Johnny “Guitar” Watson, figuratively.
I measured my head before I returned the Patriots’ hat for a fitted one; my head measures 24″ — two feet! — in circumference. From head to toe, I’m only 5′11″ dripping wet, 5′10″ on a depressing day. A 34 percent head-to-height ratio has got to be right up there among the all-time leaders.
Spring is a season fraught with anxiety for men with big heads, for it recalls for us a time when the extraordinary bigness of our heads was objectively verified. When I played Little League baseball as a kid, I used to dread the day they’d hand out the caps. The coach would take a gander at each kid and guess what size he needed, small, medium or large. No “L” hat ever fit me, so my hat would sit on top of my head like a cherry on a cupcake. The other kids would look away and kick at the dirt. One year, I just went out and bought an adult hat rather than subject myself to the embarrassment.
There is no direct correlation between head size and intellect. During the years when both were alive, Victor Hugo had one of the largest heads in France, and Anatole France one of the smallest, and each was a more than competent scribbler. In boxing, among other endeavors, size matters, but apparently not when it comes to (in the words of a late Boston sportswriter) putting one little word in front of another.
The popular conception is, of course, to the contrary. Highly evolved space aliens in science fiction are always depicted with massive crania to hold their super-sized brains. The flip side of the future, however, is that as the brain grows, the heart shrinks. Aliens are typically portrayed as unfeeling, uncaring creatures, as if their emotions had been cauterized when they were young.
Well, what did you expect? Their whole lives, they’ve had a universe of creatures sniggering behind their hands at them.
Ever since they went out for Little League.
— 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.
Exhausted from the anguish of life, low on hormones and cash, crippled with hopelessness, and worn down from around-the-clock care of a brain tumor patient, I reached a point, where I was certain I would go nuts, if didn’t change a damn thing in my pathetic existence.
I think it was in that very moment, that lightning struck me and I experienced a delirious flash of insight, an epiphany.
I believe that many of us have that life-changing instant, where you go from one second to another, and you feel like it’s the end but also a beginning. When your circumstances (be it illness, bad luck, loss of a loved one, or all at the same time) violently tear you down to the very core of your essence, when there’s nothing left, but the plain, naked Y-O-U.
Once you reach the deepest of all bottoms, everything else falls away, and nothing that’s left matters. It doesn’t matter that you have a loving family, an adoring husband, beautiful children and a handful of friends, who are there for you when stuff happens. Despite your deceased ovaries, extinct thyroid and erased adrenals, everything else in your body works to keep you alive despite the clear absence of good health. Not to mention that you still have a roof over your head, and enough money to buy the most necessary things.
But when the winds change, the winds change. And there’s not much you can do about it.
And one thing is sure, after your mental collapse, nothing will be the same as it was before (at least when it comes to your state of mind). Overnight you’ll change into a completely new person, at times even unrecognizable to yourself (a bit more courageous, a bit more adventurous and definitely more nuts).
It’s then, that you start shifting, that you start reorganizing your life, in a way that you never even dared to think of doing previously. Which is exactly what happened to me a few weeks ago.
I sat down, created a website and started blogging — something I was putting off for less busy times (after the kids grow up, mom is back in shape, my hormone therapy kicks in, and I stop yelling like a crazy person).
And then, what a surprise, what a turn, what a ride!
I never figured, that it would bring me where I am right now, juggling the incomprehensible (at least to humans, but less so to search engines) language of HTML and five active social media channels — and still continuing to run a busy family life (including trying not to mix mom’s medicine and attempting to microwave frozen dinners in the correct amount of time).
Over past three weeks I’ve learned what a template is (seriously, don’t forget I’m older than the Internet) and how to rewrite it, what’s a domain name and how to manage a Webmaster’s account. I signed into Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter — media I only knew from Prince Harry hate comments or Kim Kardashian’s tweets sung by Bette Midler on Jimmy Kimmel Live. I’ve created a more or less organized blog with plenty of tiny little widgets (OMG how I love these), joined communities of bloggers and met virtual friends from all parts of the world.
But most importantly, I began doing something, that over the years I thought I forgot how to:
I STARTED TO LAUGH!
And that alone was worth all the rush.
So, for those of you who, like me, are about to have a nervous breakdown and collapse into a very deep existential coma, I can tell you one thing: There is hope! Because even if you have nothing left (no money, no health, no luck), you can still have laughter. And there’s nothing more uplifting than good humor when you’re feeling down (plus it’s totally free of charge, gluten free and absolutely suitable for vegetarians and nut allergy sufferers)!
And who knows, maybe in the end, hitting the ground will bring for all of us a brand-new beginning, a brand-new chapter.
Sooner or later life will have us find out.
— Abby L.
Abby L. is a former Ph.D. student and lecturer of European studies at the University of McGill, globetrotter and mom of 7, who is blogging at www.midlifecrisisnut.com about (you’ve guessed it) midlife crisis, turning 40 and living as an expat in France. She’s contributed to Midlife Boulvard.com, shewrites.com, blogher.com and bloggymoms.com.
I have been saying this to anyone who will listen, and anyone who won’t, which encompasses everybody, since the birth of my beautiful, adorable, precious, smart, sweet, funny, etc., granddaughter, Chloe, who is about to turn 2.
Now I can brag to even more people as a new member of the American Grandparents Association.
Membership in the AGA costs only $15 a year, all the better to save your money, which could be as much as the aforementioned windfall, so you can buy toys and ice cream for your grandchild, who is not, let’s face it, as wonderful as Chloe but must be pretty cute anyway.
According to the AGA website, grandparents.com, there are 70 million grandmothers and grandfathers in the United States. That includes my wife, Sue, and yours truly, known to Chloe as, respectively, Nini and Poppie.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I found out that the chairman and CEO of the American Grandparents Association, famed rock music impresario Steve Leber, also is known as Poppie to his seven grandchildren.
“I love that name,” Leber told me in a recent telephone conversation, adding that his late wife, Marion, was called Meme. “But it doesn’t matter what your grandchildren call you. The best part of being a grandparent is when they look up to you.”
“Chloe has to look up to me,” I said. “She’s not even 3 feet tall.”
“There’s a difference between being a parent and a grandparent,” Leber said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “And that difference can be described in one word: diapers. I have changed more of my granddaughter’s diapers than I ever did for my two daughters, including Chloe’s mommy.”
“You have to change diapers,” Leber said. “The funny thing is, it’s not so bad when it’s your grandchild. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around too much when my three kids were young.”
That’s because Leber was frequently on the road, handling such artists as the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, Diana Ross, the Jackson Five, the Beach Boys and Aerosmith.
“But I’ve made up for it with my grandchildren,” said Leber, adding that one of his proudest accomplishments was being the good luck charm for his grandson’s soccer team.
“I was the mascot,” Leber remembered. “And my second-oldest grandchild, Jack, was the star. The team was going for the New York state youth soccer championship. I missed a couple of games because I was in Florida and they lost. Everyone said to Jack, ‘You have to get him back.’ I came back and they won the state title. I became the trophy grandfather.”
“Chloe is too young to play sports, although her daddy is a soccer fan,” I said. “And I don’t know if she considers me a trophy. But we have a special bond. She can be in her mother’s arms, but when I walk into the room, she wants to come to me.”
“That’s because you’re more fun,” Leber said.
“And less mature,” I added.
“You should never take your grandchildren for granted,” Leber advised. “Kids rebel against you, but not grandkids. They’ll confide in you.”
“And they won’t be embarrassed to be seen with you?” I asked.
“Not like children are when they’re growing up,” Leber replied.
“I felt like a typhoid carrier,” I recalled.
“Grandchildren will show you off,” Leber promised. “They’ll enjoy your company. It’s great. You’ll see.”
I am already seeing it because Chloe enjoys my company and loves being seen with me. She doesn’t even mind when I change her diapers.
“And now that you’re an AGA member,” Leber said, “you can get all kinds of discounts. That means you’ll have more money to buy toys for your granddaughter.”
“Thanks,” I said. “But I’m already the biggest toy she has.”
— 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 five 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.
The news doesn’t need to be complicated and confusing; that’s what any new release from Microsoft is for. And, as in the case with anything from Microsoft, to keep the news from worrying our pretty little heads over, remember something new and equally indecipherable will come out soon.
Really all you need to do is follow one simple rule: barely pay attention and jump to conclusions. So, here are some headlines today and my first thoughts:
A Meth Lab was built in a WalMart bathroom
Someone tried to do that in an IKEA, but couldn’t figure out the instructions.
Gary Dahl, the inventor of the pet rock, dies
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you just get stoned.
The world’s most elusive cat has been captured on camera
All it took was some person going into a nearby bathroom and leaving the door ajar.
Krispy Kreme co-founder dies at 95 years old
No word, if he was buried in a box with a dozen family members.
Obama reveals his favorite Girl Scout cookie
Man, that would have a whole different meaning if it were Bill Clinton.
Happy National Poetry Day
A day where I think, therefore iamb.
Bristol Palin’s Alaska home for sale
At least according to Putin, who can see it from his house.
This is what happens when you step on molten lava
Ouch… ouch… sh**… ouch… ouch… sh**… ouch…
Reports actor Dennis Hopper just died, despite having already passed away five years ago
In fairness, given the amount of acid he took, his corpse could be having a flashback.
How ‘marijuana refugees’ brought legal cannabis to Georgia
I’m guessing on a midnight train.
Putin says Russia will stand firm in standoff with West
Kanye says, ‘What his problem with me? Just because I think Russia should be run by Beyonce.’
Happy 91st birthday, Gloria Vanderbilt
Congratulations. Your genes are longer lasting than your jeans.
— Paul Lander
Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written standup material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney‘s, The New Yorker, Santa Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake.
(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Jayne Robinson’s upcoming book, The Convertible Chronicles: Going Topless. Click here for guidelines for prospective contributors.)
“The really happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery when on a detour.”
I make my way down the crowded aisle. I am headed to Paris — my luggage lighter than the limit, but I carry the diagnosis of cancer.
The plan was to spend four weeks teaching. And then 10 days in Provence with my two daughters, Lizzie and Kat, traveling by train and a mini-Cooper convertible. I am forced to detour by a cluster of unruly cells.
# # #
“Excuse me, would you like a stick of gum?” my seatmate, a woman in her 60s, says. I take it and mumble thanks. I am in a metal cocoon with a woman battling fourth-stage liver cancer. Her husband died when she was in her 40s leaving her to raise her children alone; her daughter died of diabetes. I tell her about my convertible and how my trip was supposed to end not in cancer surgery but a roofless ride through Provence with my two daughters.
She tells me her sister has a convertible. She says, “You know that face? The face you have when you are in a convertible and wind and time are rushing past.” I do. I have often been accused of looking sad or tired when I am neither. People taking my photo say, “Look happy, for God’s sake. … Well, OK, just say cheese.” After my first child was born I sent a photo of me holding her to my father. He tells me it is the first photo of my life where I looked happy. But in a convertible the wind transforms my face. Joy wipes away the years.
“You know,” she says, “cancer, like convertibles, is good at blowing unnecessary things out of your hair and mind.”
On the day before I am set to fly home we visit Reims. The cathedral is lovely, but my religious experience comes in the cellars of Maison de Champagne Taittinger. Bottles destined to travel the world, to toast babies not yet conceived, life partners not yet drawn together, anniversaries of people now struggling, who hope their union will be celebrated, the burning of mortgages and degrees bestowed, cancers in remission, ships launched in calm seas. …
Surgery morning is dark with a fine rain. It has rained on all the significant days of my life. The rain on our wedding day stopped just as we crossed over the Ambassador Bridge, and a double rainbow graced our Canadian honeymoon. It rained on the day I defended my Ph.D., the birth days of both Lizzie and Kat, the day Lizzie was diagnosed with MS — and four solid days after; the universe wanted to be sure I understood that this meant the disease would not conquer this girl. And today.
I take this as a good omen.
I ask my husband, Wayne, if he will drive me to the hospital in the convertible. I want to feel the rain on my face. I wish I was heading to the hospital with my uterus full of child, not cancer. It feels like yesterday Kat was born. Einstein insists time is not linear. Today it is evident.
The surgeon emerges and tells Wayne and my daughters that it went well. Earliest stages.
Lizzie uses her vacation to take care of me. Both daughters join me in bed for pillow talk. Wayne dotes. …
I see love, the love of the humans we travel with — who chauffeur us when we are broken and ride shotgun in convertibles when we joyride.
Summer is running out. Do I feel well enough to go river rafting?
So, under a perfect blue sky, we tumble our way down one of the world’s oldest rivers. Between whitewater we jump into the river and float — our family a flotilla. Kat often says we are like one soul in four bodies. The river drowns my worries. Back home I am ready to drive solo. Wayne helps me put down the top and lower myself, gingerly, into the seat of our almost classic convertible. I head out on the highway and then cut away into the woods. I drive until I am at the speed of life. Time slows, and flows, like caramel in the sun. It is like the river, this road. It flows and I flow with it; I am 17 driving down a road in Southern Ontario. And I feel it … convertible face.
— Jayne Robinson
Jayne Robinson is a professor of biology at the University of Dayton and author of The Cake Chronicles: Finding Sweet Hope In This Crazy World. This is an excerpt from her upcoming book, The Convertible Chronicles: Going Topless. It first appeared in the spring 2015 issue of the University of Dayton Magazine.
Author Jayne Robinson is seeking personal essays from women of a certain age who love and own convertibles for a new book, The Convertible Chronicles: Going Topless. Click here for an excerpt of an essay she wrote for the book.
Here are the guidelines for submission:
Format: The book will consist of chapters, mini-chronicles (1,000-2,000 words), written by women who love and own convertibles.
Content: Each essay will focus broadly on the woman’s relationship with her convertible, e.g., what led you to get one, how/why riding topless makes one feel better, freer, more joyful and the like. Chapters will range from a very focused story of a particular trip or experience, a meta approach to all the convertibles you’ve owned or lusted after, or a philosophical/psychological analysis. Her hope is that all essays/stories would be personal and explore the terrain in ways that address themes of joy, freedom, aging, recovery; and all others that emerge.
Special Criteria: Contributors will be over the age of 50 (women of a certain age), so ageism will be a common theme.
Personal Profile: In addition to the essay, each contributor will also be expected to provide a personal profile that is made up of answers to provided prompts a la Dewars Scotch advertisements (see examples below). Prompts are provided as a separate file to be completed by contributors.
Ultimate topless trip?
Craziest time in a convertible?
For more information or to offer submissions, email Jayne Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.