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Watt the heck happened?

Judy Clarke“The bulb broke off in the socket and you can’t get it out,” said the wizened helper at our local True Value hardware store. I’d walked in holding the socket and the broken remains of a three-way bulb aloft in a plastic baggie.

“Well, yes,” I said, “but that’s not the problem.” He was already heading to the front desk to get a screwdriver. Quick as a bulb burning out, he had the shards removed.  “What happened is, I put in a new bulb, after the bulb I’d just replaced two days ago burned out. When I screwed the newest bulb in, it flashed, then exploded. Glass sprayed all over. It looked like fireworks.”

He stroked his chin. No place but in a local hardware store would a clerk stroke his chin. Nor for that matter, help without being asked. I love local shops.

The solution was, buy a new socket assembly. I bought that and a bag of the peppermints I can only find at Christmas. The guys at the counter laughed at me. “Well-l, I didn’t really come in here to buy candy,” I said, attempting to make excuses for myself.

The next day I decided I could replace that socket myself. I consulted our 1975 edition of How things work in your home and what to do when they don’t.  Can’t beat its concise directions and easy-to-understand drawings. I attached the twisty little copper wires onto one thingie, then the other twisty copper wires to the other thingie. Put in a new bulb, and POW. Three in two days. I was running out of bulbs. I called son-in-law Martin. He and Les were on their way out — they’d stop by in a few minutes.

When I showed him how carefully I’d followed the book’s instructions, he looked at me with a grin teetering on the edge of laughter. “That’s not the ground,” he said, “this is. You shorted it out.” I mistakenly wrapped one of the copper twizzlies around the switch instead of the terminal. Not good.

Within seconds he’d done it properly. Helpful sons-in-law are as good to have as a helpful hardware man. We have another good son-in-law in Bill, but he lives too far away for these drive-by fix-its I seem to need more and more often these days.

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self). She’s currently a finalist in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 2016 writing competition (in the category of online, blog, multimedia under 100,000 unique visitors).

Short story

 

Aline.WeillerI stand a mere 5’ 2.” This, I’m reminded of daily. Last week, three people offered assistance as I struggled to hoist my luggage onto the overhead rack on the train. My kitchen cabinets house items I can’t even pretend to grasp, prompting pleas to my teenage boys. My house has step stools in every closet, the garage and kitchen; they are my gateway to both garden gloves and granola.

Grocery shopping is the ultimate challenge — I’m forever on the hunt for tall passersby of the Good Samaritan ilk to grab organic ketchup, shelved beyond my reach. And I regret to admit, I still step on bottom racks for a boost, though I’ve been reprimanded ad nauseam.

But there are more small girl problems. General admission seating at concerts is taxing, at best. In family pictures, I’m the sole adult lining the front row with nephews and nieces. Movie theaters pose seeing the screen obstructed by the head of an average-sized adult. My car’s sun shades barely block rays and adjusting shower heads demands Olympic prowess. Not to dismiss the ultimate bummer — people use my head as a banister. Yes, being small has forced me to “McGuyver” my way to solutions, like the famed secret agent from this ’80s action-adventure television series.

Additionally, I was understandably mortified when my younger sister surpassed me by three inches in middle school. When I questioned this phenomenon, my mother tried to console me, saying I’d be as tall as both grandmothers, who had, incidentally, already began their literal descent into old age.

Lately, though, I’ve embraced my height as a gift, and have reframed it to celebrate its perks. Children like me — I’m little, like a fun-size Snickers. I can nap on the couch, no problem. Heels are always an option, and in sneakers, I can negotiate crowds with fleeted finesse. Long-legged people are forever grateful when I take the backseat or give them the aisle on planes: I’m portable. I’ve gotten carded way past the appropriate window. Petite clothes don’t require costly alterations, and I’m name tag level at reunions, when classmates remain stumped, searching memory banks for lost identities. I can even wear kids’ Uggs and get called cute a lot.

And other good news — I sport a big personality in a small package, and consider myself concentrated, not less than.

— Aline Weiller

Aline Weiller’s essays have been featured on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog, Brain, Child Magazine, Scary Mommy, Your Teen and Skirt, among others. She’s also the CEO/Founder of Wordsmith, LLC — a public relations firm based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Follow her on Twitter @AlineCWeiller.

The bizarro commencement speech

Mark J. DrozdowskiCollege commencement season is once again upon us. Because I work in higher education, I’ve been to about 40 of these (some institutions host more than one per year). These events feature speakers who, like their counterparts at high school graduations, offer the same familiar bromides time after time. I’ve heard my fair share and can recite these platitudes by heart.

Were I asked to speak at a commencement, I’d confound expectations and offer the following advice and counsel.

Members of the Class of 2016: I’m honored to have the opportunity to address you today.

Commencement, we all know, signifies a beginning — the beginning of student loan payments, additional crushing debt, a life of heartache and despair, and in most cases a future destined ultimately for failure. Believe me, you’re better off staying here and avoiding the real world altogether.

I know you think you’ll be the exception, and you’ve been told you are the best and brightest of your generation. Well, let me assure you you’re not. If you were, you’d be graduating from a better college. You are average. You’ll remain average. You’ll have average jobs, make an average wage, drive an average car and live in an average house.

You are not going to change the world. If anything, you’ll screw it up even more.

Perhaps you have big dreams and have been encouraged to follow them. Do not. Dreams are silly exercises. They don’t come true. You will eventually become disillusioned and realize how foolish you were.

Likewise, don’t follow what you believe is your passion. Instead, be opportunistic. Seek security and safety. Settle for what’s right in front of you. Risk is overrated. It’s dangerous and foolish. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It’s often brown and disgusting and full of weeds.

Whatever initial path you choose, if you do fail, quit and try something else. Don’t bother mounting the same horse; he’ll only throw you off again. Such persistence, as we know, is the definition of insanity.

Yes, you may get bored, but you have to ask yourself if boredom is preferable to failure. I think you’ll agree it is. Change, you’ll discover, is your enemy. With change comes fear, and we all want to avoid fear. Fear is not something to be embraced and overcome; it is something to run from. Seek stability and comfort in the familiar and you’ll be happier for it. Nothing ventured, nothing lost.

You’ll find, too, that hard work simply doesn’t pay off. You’ll work hard but fall victim to organizational politics, nepotism, personality conflicts and general bad fortune. Do just enough work not to get fired, and you’ll think you’ve won. Advancement isn’t the end game; steady employment is.

What you’ve learned over the past few years is probably all you’ll need to get by. Lifelong learning is a waste of time and effort. If anything, submit to lifelong training — but here again, gain just enough basic skills to keep doing your job adequately. Anything beyond that is gilding the lily, and to what end?

At some point in your career, you’ll become more defined by what you’ve done than by what you want. You will concede to living the life others expect you to live. That’s okay. Don’t attempt to think or act outside this box. It provides valuable shelter.

If you do get ahead and achieve some modicum of success, it will likely occur because of luck. Bear in mind that you don’t make your own luck; it happens to you accidentally. You are an unwitting bystander to your own fate. Accept it now and get used to it.

And once you leave this middling institution, you’d do well never to return. Staying engaged with your alma mater is pointless. You served your time here, you paid your tuition and you earned your degree. It’s time to move on. You may wish to network among your 30,000 fellow alumni, but they have nothing to offer you, nor you them.

Finally, don’t waste your money or time giving back. Helping others does nothing to get you ahead. Your charity won’t help them anyway. This institution will lay on the guilt trip about supporting the next generation. Let them suffer like you have. You don’t owe them a thing. Charity begins at home — theirs, not yours.

Let me conclude by offering my congratulations to the Class of 2016. This is truly a noteworthy occasion, and you’ll probably never be happier than you are now. In fact, I guarantee it. You are poised to embark on a tepid journey marked by mediocrity and predictability.

In the years to come, if you remember anything from this address, let it be this: If you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, don’t take any and you won’t miss.

— Mark J. Drozdowski

Mark J. Drozdowski is a writer, humorist and aspiring pundit. He was a columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education for nine years and currently writes a humor column, “Special Edification,” for Inside Higher Ed. His writing has appeared inThe New York Times MagazineBoston Globe Magazine, theBaltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant and Salon, among other publications and websites. He blogs at drdroz.wordpress.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @drdroz.

Nice work if you can get it

Jerry ZezimaWhenever I attempt to do something I can’t do — sing, dance, perform surgery — somebody tells me not to quit my day job. The only people who want me to quit are my bosses, who don’t realize that the reason I have my day job is that I am spectacularly unqualified to do anything else.

Still, you never know when you will no longer be gainfully (or, in my case, ungainfully) employed. So, because I have had a fair career, I recently went to a career fair. It was held, perhaps not coincidentally, at the company where I work on Long Island, New York.

The first thing I found out, after stopping at a table sponsored by my company, is that I couldn’t get a job with my company. That’s because they were looking for someone to provide technical support.

“Technically speaking, my 3-year-old granddaughter is more advanced than I am,” I admitted, “which means she would have to support me.”

“Can you do anything else?” asked Craig Brusseler, talent manager for operations.

“Aside from telling bad jokes, I have no talent,” I said. “And hospital patients wouldn’t trust me to do operations.”

But Chrissy Huber, a sales recruiter, thought I had promise.

“You have a good personality,” she noted, “so you could go door to door to convince people who have switched to another cable company to come back to us.”

“What if somebody thought I was a scam artist and called the cops?” I wondered. “I don’t want to go back to prison.”

Chrissy raised her eyebrows, extended her hand and said, “Good luck with your job search.”

I had bad luck at the next table, which was sponsored by BMW.

“We are looking for technicians,” said recruiter Stefan Schedel.

“I’d have an easier time transcribing the Dead Sea Scrolls than telling you what’s going on under the hood of a car,” I confessed.

“I’m afraid you’re not the kind of person we’re looking for,” said Renai Ellison, another recruiter.

“Could I at least get a free car out of the deal?” I asked.

I didn’t. But I did get a free tote bag. I dropped in the Cablevision Frisbee and the pen I got from my company.

Next I stopped at the Liberty Mutual table, where Maureen Baranello and Robert Moore were looking for someone to sell insurance.

“It involves outside referrals,” Maureen said.

“I don’t like working outside,” I replied. “What if it rains?”

“Buy a raincoat and an umbrella,” Robert suggested.

I told the two recruiters about the time I got into a car accident that was caused by a guy whose GPS told him to go the wrong way down a one-way street.

“Your company covered the damage,” I said.

“You can tell that story to potential customers,” said Maureen.

“Does the job include crunching numbers?” I inquired.

“Yes,” Robert said. “Lots of them.”

“I’ll have to disqualify myself,” I said. “One of the reasons I went into journalism is because I can’t do math. I’d bankrupt your company in a week.”

I’d do the same to Bethpage Federal Credit Union, whose recruiter, Amanda Shatel, said I couldn’t refinance my mortgage so I wouldn’t have any more payments.

“I helped bail out the banks,” I pointed out. “Would yours do the same for me?”

“Sorry,” said Amanda, who gave me a free letter opener so I could open my mortgage statements.

I visited other tables — including those sponsored by Riverhead Building Supply, where I got a paint stick and a rubber hammer; The Arbors, which runs assisted living communities, where I got another pen; and David Lerner Associates, an investment broker, where I got a handshake — but nothing panned out.

“Did you go to the career fair?” one of my bosses asked when I returned to my desk.

“Yes,” I said.

“How’d it go?” he wondered.

“Bad news,” I said. “I’m not quitting my day job.”

— 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 Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows Best, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

The Seattle NO

 

Amie RyanIf you ever plan to visit Seattle or interact in any way with someone from the Pacific Northwest, it might be helpful to learn about the Seattle NO. In Seattle, for whatever reason, people shy away from directly expressing a No in any situation. Those of you not from the area may be confused: how can someone avoid saying No?

Well, it’s tricky. Often we mean No and whatever we do say instead of No, we assume the listener knows that what we mean is NO. If you invite someone from Seattle to an event and they respond, “Hmm that sounds interesting, I’ll have to check,” that means NO. If they say “Maybe” and then you don’t hear from them for a while, that means NO. If they say “I don’t know,” that means NO.

It should be noted, sometimes any of these responses may actually mean that they have to check or “maybe” or that they don’t know. Any of these responses could conceivably lead to an eventual Yes. Except usually what they mean is NO.

So why don’t they just say NO? I have no idea. Since I’m from Seattle, I’ve been hearing this response and giving it myself my whole life and had never thought twice about it. When, last year, a friend mentioned the term ‘Seattle No’ to me, I was intrigued. “It’s our passive aggressive way of saying No,” he claimed. According to my friend, when we feel NO, we mean it just as much as someone from Chicago or New York City, but if you went to those places, those people would be direct about it. They’d just say NO.

His theory was that in Seattle, no matter how much we truly want to say NO, we worry what other people will think of us if we say the word. We want to live NO without being held accountable for choosing NO. We want it both ways. Apparently, we as a region, have decided that really good people say Yes to everything and that saying NO to anything would be a social gaffe along the lines of spilling soup down one’s chin.

He had moved to Seattle at age eight; that’s how he so keenly spotted the difference.

At first I wanted to argue the point, but then realized he was right. Once he had pointed it out, I could think of numerous times I’d done the Seattle NO and that I’d heard everyone I know do it as well. I wondered if avoiding a direct NO meant we were polite or just sketchy.

And it isn’t like people in Seattle agree on everything or never question anything. God, no. We love to make a fuss over things both big and small. We debate over coffee, on the sidewalk and in our classrooms. We like to talk and do a lot of it. People running for office in Seattle get to hear a lot of people talking, and they’re expected to listen to everyone.

We have opinions. Sometimes these opinions get translated into laws, and sometimes those laws seem so smart that other states duplicate them. We are passionately for some things and against others. On ballots, we check the box we mean.

Just don’t ask us a yes or no question. If you do, you’ll hear an iffy-sounding answer that will leave you confused. If we answer at all. We may just let you leave a message and then we won’t return it because we’ll suddenly be busy. Or the phone must not have worked. Or something. Why, we’ll tell five or six white lies before ever admitting that we just wanted to say NO to begin with.

So are people from Seattle great big liars? No, not really. You see, we expect the listener to understand we’re saying NO. When people seem confused and confront someone here, claiming they were somehow led on, we are quick to defend ourselves: “What I said was I’m not sure. I never said Yes.”

In fact, it’s seen as a social gaffe (again, like spilling your soup) to not recognize a Seattle NO when you hear one. Asking someone the same question a second time is seen as tacky, in bad form. It’s putting the other person in an uncomfortable position where they might have to be slightly less vague and possibly hurt your feelings. That’s what they were trying to avoid in the first place.

In other words, you may not hear the word NO, but if you hear any combination of vague terms that doesn’t include the word Yes, you should take it as a NO.

Why should we care so much about what people think? We aren’t sure. The best way I can think to explain it is that we believe, somewhere deep down, that if we just directly say NO, we will appear not unlike Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver saying “You talkin’ to me?” And while we may love Robert De Niro, we don’t want to come off like Travis Bickle in the movie.

Any time in any situation you get the response: we’ll have to get back to you, that’s a Seattle NO. What it means is we won’t be getting back to you, we’ll be hiding from you because we’ll be scared you’ll ask that question again. So if I tell you I’ll have to get back to you, it means you’ll probably never hear from me again in your lifetime.

If you’re from Seattle, you’ll understand that immediately, the minute you hear me say it. You won’t bother wasting your time, waiting for my call or leaving me confused messages. You’ll have already gotten my answer, which we both understood was NO.

But if you’re new to the area, and by New I mean Not Born Here, you may wonder if I’m still alive. Since I said I’d get back to you, you may incorrectly assume I’m someday going to get back to you. You may even feel miffed when I never do. If I learn that you’re offended, my reaction will be to once again be passive aggressive and claim I’ve been busy and that I’ve meant to get back to you.

Which will actually mean: Damn, why did I have to run into HIM? I’m never going to THIS coffee shop again. It will also mean I think you’re a moron for not understanding that I had been trying to give you a polite brush off. Or as you might call it, totally lying. I will feel somewhat superior to you because I tried to spare your feelings by being polite and you were some kind of dimwitted caveman who kept practically begging me to disappoint you.

So just to be clear, if you don’t hear the word Yes, we have said NO.

It’s somewhat similar to how, in Hawaii, the word Aloha means 100 different things. We’re somewhat like that except we have 100 different things we say that actually all mean the word NO.

I say this to help you. And if you’re from outside Washington state and have never encountered this Seattle NO business, you may find it exhilarating to come to our state and try it out. Because if you’re from one of those places where people actually come right out and say NO, you understand that people are frequently then required to answer WHY NOT and often things get angry.

Here you never reach the WHY NOT stage (which usually leads to the angry stage) because you never actually said NO to begin with. You said I’m not sure or I’ll have to get back to you, and then the question just blew away like old dandelion puff. We may sort of be liars, but we’re civilized. Maybe that’s why we’re consistently voted one of the friendliest cities in the U.S. No one’s walking around fuming from hearing NO or from being asked WHY NOT. Maybe we have extra patience just waiting to be given to someone needing assistance or directions or advice.

Heck, in Seattle you don’t even need to go up to someone and ask for directions. If you stand there looking lost, someone will come up to you and ask you if you need help. They’ll probably offer to quickly draw you a map and if you still seem confused, they may even take you to your destination themselves. And if you try to thank them or express that these are nice gestures, they’ll dismiss your thanks and tell you no problem, that they’re glad to help. And they’ll mean it.

So in Seattle, we aren’t total a**holes. See, this is maybe why I don’t work for the state tourism board, because I’d come up with slogans just like that one. Or others: Washington, Where Bands Don’t Suck or Washington, Yeah The Coffee Is That Good.

So In Seattle, firm replies are hard to come by. Unless the reply is Yes. That’s an answer we do know how to give and we give it quickly and sincerely. Ask me a Yes question and I’ll love it.

But if I can’t say Yes, I’m going to have to get back to you.

(Aloha)

— Amie Ryan

Amie Ryan is a Seattle writer who has self-published two collections of essays and a biography of Marilyn Monroe. She grew up reading Erma Bombeck’s books and watching her Good Morning America segments.

Dear Mom, Having a wonderful time,
wish you were here

Molly StevensDear Mom,

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone, and I still can’t believe I couldn’t hug and kiss you, give you a mushy card, and a box of Godiva’s.

You know the tradition in the church on Mother’s Day, when they pass out pink carnations to women who still have a living mother, and white to those whose mothers have died? I remember the year you were no longer eligible for a pink flower. I was heartbroken, and pushed aside thoughts that I was next in line to qualify for this rite of passage.

I was in my 40s when I realized there was something confusing about your childbearing years. You had two girls, Noreen and Linda, and then a boy, Marvin. Six years later, I was born. I inquired, “Mom, was I an accident?” You replied with a little too much haste, “No! Well, I mean, not really. We were happy about you once we got used to the idea.” I never suspected that I was an unplanned pregnancy, a tribute to the way you loved me completely.Molly Stevens and mother

I admit there is relief in knowing “the end of your story.” I was worried about you as you aged. Questions lurked, “How would you die? Would you suffer? Would you lose your mental faculties?”

Consistent with your loving and open nature, you shared your end-of-life experience with us. We kept you comfortable at home, with the assistance of hospice. On 9/7/07 at 7 a.m. with 7 of us at your side, you passed from this life to the next, offering us one last radiant smile. You were 87 years old and you and Dad had celebrated your 70th wedding anniversary earlier that year. It is no coincidence that seven is a number that represents completion.

One of the many things you taught us was to laugh at ourselves, even during tense situations.

True to this teaching, you always laughed at the retelling of your famous cranberry story. The setting was a marathon shopping jaunt with daughters Linda and Noreen, and granddaughter Bridget. When it was lunch time, you stopped at a local diner. Service was slow, and you were ravenous. You started to complain with increasing volume and urgency.

When the server offered a dry saltine cracker, you jumped to your feet, and announced you were leaving. Linda grabbed your shirttail and pulled you back in your seat. Bridget innocently offered you some dried cranberries she carried for emergencies, to which you bellowed, “Cranberries! Who wants cranberries? I’d eat chocolate-covered raisins, but cranberries?”

From that time on, when the ladies planned an expedition, there was a checklist comparable to preparing a plane for takeoff. And there was no announcement of “all clear” until confirming that someone had packed chocolate-covered raisins.

One of the ways I worked through my grief after you died was to write letters to you using my dominant right hand. Then I would write your replies, using my left hand. In one of my letters I asked you how you adjusted after you lost your own mother, and this was your reply.

Dearest Molly,

I don’t know how I did it when my Mom died. Of course I was sad, but I kept living. She always lived in my heart, as I will yours. Go ahead, not backward. Live and laugh. I am always with you, more than when I lived on earth. I love you, my baby girl.

Mom
xoxo

It took time before I could go ahead, not backward. But I am happy to say I took your advice, and I am living and laughing.

And I don’t leave home without chocolate-covered raisins.

Love,
Molly

— Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk, but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She blogs at www.shallowreflections.com, where she skims over important topics, like her love affair with white potatoes and why she saves user manuals.

 

Just another day at your local library:
checking out books and breaking up fights

Roz WarrenWe librarians are expected to check out your books and answer your reference questions, but we’re often called upon to perform other tasks. When a Facebook pal recently asked her fellow librarians: “What has been your most memorable ‘other duty’ since you began your career?” the responses she got might surprise people who think that library work is quiet, routine and humdrum:

Breaking up fights between moms in our play area.

Picking up poop in the Storybook Garden before the ice cream social.

I once guided the bomb squad as they slowly and methodically combed through our two-story library. Empty phone threat — phew!

Furnace repair.

Escorting a pigeon from the computer lab.

Breaking up a couple making whoopee in the women’s bathroom. (I was the very definition of “coitus interruptus.”)

Putting pajamas on a llama. (He was part of a story time presentation.)

Administering first aid to a patron who was stabbed in the computer lab.

I do Potty Story Time, so once every three months I spend 30 minutes extolling the virtues of pooping in a toilet to a room full of strangers.

Pulling weeds.

Posing for stock photos.

Distracting a student (who’d threatened a prof with a gun before hiding out at the library) until the police arrived.

Shoveling sidewalks.

Tending chickens.

Checking to see if the dude who’d been in his car in our parking lot for hours, motionless, was dead. (He wasn’t. Just sound asleep.)

Holding a bag containing a baby wallaby so it would stay calm during a story time presentation.

Chasing down and tackling the jerk who grabbed our “Donate Your Spare Change To the Library” canister and ran out the door with it.

Helping patrons apply for Moose Permits.

Removing a black widow spider.

Climbing onto the roof to retrieve a young patron’s stuffed animal.

Administering CPR to a patron who had a heart attack in the Reading Room. (He survived.)

Making a sign for one of our bathrooms that said, “There is a live duck in the bathroom. Do not let it out. Use the other bathroom.”

So the next time the line backs up at your library’s circulation desk because there’s only one librarian on duty instead of the usual two? Don’t get angry. That other librarian may be busy fixing the furnace, holding a wallaby, shoveling the sidewalk…or saving a life.

— Roz Warren

Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor. This essay first appeared in www.womensvoicesforchange.org.

Hippy-dippy hormones

Photo 208Just call me Grandpa Groovy.

I’m undergoing a new stage in life. Cutting my second set of false teeth. A recurrence of midlife mischief.

As expected and dreaded, my face has indeed acquired considerably more character lines than when I cut my first set of choppers (and temporarily possessed a red Ferrari). This time, as fate would have it, one scary surprise has devolved: the hair on my arms, legs and chest have vanished. Without waxing.

But one ace in the hole has lain under my cap for years. I still have a huge load of head hair. Hasn’t even turned gray. Yet. Except my beard. So, as a natural born narcissist, I dye my beard to match my head hair. Well, matches, except when I become preoccupied during the dying process and leave the dye on too damn long. And I do that all the time. Scariest sight I’ve ever seen in a mirror. Terrifies others too, but I’m a prankster so that’s a bonus. Still, as a guy who couldn’t grow hair on his face until I was 36, even an exceptionally black and scary beard is better than no beard.

To unscramble my hideous hormones in time to maintain my image as a radical rascal, I’ve decided to recapture a particular piece of my youth before the parade passes by. I’ve let my stunning head of hair grow to hippy-length. Furthermore, I race around town spewing out hippy words like “Right on! and Uptight!” Even big hippy words like “Relevant!” and “Establishment.” Plus substituting the word “sir” with “man,” as in “Hey, man, what time does the ocean close?”

A few days ago, it was warm enough in New York City for me to wear a tank top. On the subway, I noticed two young girls no older than 45 or 50 staring at me, their faces wreathed with smiles. I knew my long locks had gotten their attention. Ah, I was young again. Stevo still had it. And just when I had been told that my hippy hair was making me too stuck up to live with.

Then, a few days later, I was toweling off after a shower when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. To my horror, I noticed a pathetic hunk of sagging skin hanging under my right arm. I checked my other arm. Ah, thank God. The skin was sagging there, too. Symmetrical sagging. A dream come true. Not! My God almighty! Those smiling subway girls weren’t admiring my daring hairstyle. They were giggling over my loose skin.

Blessed as I am with oodles of head hair, there’s still no denying that gravity can be vicious on an aging body. I’ve all but given up my membership to nude beaches. Still, I search for ways to at least make my aging face fit better with my comely coiffure. I ruled out Botox. No way, man. Allergic. To needles. But I’m super-allergic to wrinkles. Not to worry: turns out that lying down on my back makes facial wrinkles disappear.

Ya know, I’m almost certain I can recall Erma Bombeck’s puzzling out in jest once how to enter a room horizontally. With class. Clearly, Erma possessed a decided advantage. She was sane. In a recent nightmare, my grandsons carried me into a roomful of people for a grand entrance, with not a wrinkle on my face. Problem was, when I stood up, everyone shrieked and scattered. Everyone except those two gals from the subway who were pointing at me and laughing hysterically.

As the hippest hipster on the block, I’m not trying to find myself anymore. I’m just trying to do my own thang. I’m forbidden to buy a Harley Davidson to accommodate my second midlife crisis, but I do get plenty of second looks riding on a senior citizen tricycle, my long hair freely flowing in the wind. The other day, I peddled to the park and came upon another baby boomer who has adopted the hippy look. I’m such a trendsetter. He, too, was piloting his senior tricycle, probably cruising for chicks.

“Hey man, what up? Nice bell-bottoms,” I said.

“Sup, man? Nice we’re having weather.”

“Like totally, man. Nice we’re having weather.”

Instant bonding. Turned out we both love to play the boyhood game of marbles, but no one else will play with us. We agreed to get together some Sunday and play marbles.

Here’s a pathetic coincidence: Neither one of us can find our marbles. Lost. What are the odds?

— 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.

Reflections of Erma