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T-T-Talking ’bout my generation

When Mark Zuckerberg and his pals at Harvard sat around in their dorm rooms and envisioned the future, you can bet this did not happen: “Someday, people in their 60s, anxious to cling to a time when their knees didn’t ache and they could read menus without glasses, will turn to our invention and see what’s become of all their high school friends. It’ll be fabulous.”

Yet, that’s pretty much what’s happened. I’ve learned everything I know about the Class of ‘68 from Facebook. The biggest revelation? No other generation has been able to conclude, the way we have, that the cool kids got much less cool as time went by. Past generations have had to live long enough to get to that 50th high school reunion to get the final word. Not us. We’ve got newsfeeds.

And conversely, something wonderful has happened to the glasses-wearing, science-loving geeky kids, who were always in the background. I know because I’m friended to two of them — lifelong friends of each other — who were so sweet, smart and dorky you almost had to look away. If they were boys who got their lunch money stolen or got stuffed in someone’s locker between classes, Facebook tells me this is no longer true. They’ve had lucrative careers and long, happy marriages. These days, they upload glorious photos of the two of them hiking mountain ranges together. I don’t know how this happened, but they’re almost athletic.

The football team, many of whom ended up with bad backs and regrets about two-a-day practices — sure didn’t see this coming when they tossed around these guys on the bus. And as for the surfers whom I worshipped from afar, like the rest of us, sun damage hasn’t done their faces any favors. But the science nerdy boys, who tried to stay under the radar of the locker room crowd and have been wearing sun-proof gear for decades, look remarkable. Even when they smile they don’t look weathered, the way — ahem — some people who peaked early and went around saying “Kowabunga” all through high school do now.

In the garden of the late bloomers, the kids who were in the background have blossomed. Facebook tells me so. And it’s the news I’ve been waiting to read. So thanks, Facebook.

— Linda DeMers Hummel

Linda DeMers Hummel is a Baltimore-based freelancer. She recently completed a memoir, I Haven’t Got All Day, and blogs at www.lindadhummel.com.

Stuck!

A sudden jolt, many of us lurched, and then all movement stopped. We were stuck between floors!

In about two seconds I could tell that I was packed like a sardine among a bunch of people who didn’t have the crisis coping skills of actual sardines.

The one difference, of course, was that most of these people had cell phones. And their phones came out faster than a posse drawing on a fleeing outlaw as they called for help, or called loved ones, or canceled appointments, or ordered pizzas, or took care of whatever else was at the top of their priority lists.

I guessed I couldn’t blame them, since none of us knew if this transportation apparatus would be immobilized for a few minutes or several hours. I mean, think about it. This was not fun. We were all crammed together with no food, no water, no bathrooms and no Starbucks. I had recently experienced my first root canal and, compared to this, the root canal already seemed like a trip to the beach.

I began to observe the people around me more closely. There was confusion, uncertainty, dread, and even resignation on many of their faces. I could even tell what the lady standing next to me was thinking. “The first thing I’m going to do when I get home is call each one of my children and grandchildren,” her eyes were obviously saying. Or, maybe, “I am never going to leave home wearing uncomfortable shoes again.” I was sure it was one of those things.

All too quickly, though, some of the more anxious riders appeared to be approaching the near-panic mode. That was probably accelerated by the fact that there wasn’t room to sit down. It was so crowded that we all had to stay on our feet. That, of course, made things even worse.

“These people need encouragement,” I thought to myself. Since I was in the middle of the group, I decided that I should try to do something.

“Folks, just relax and stay calm. The maintenance crews will have this thing fixed soon, and then we’ll be on our way,” I said in my most reassuring, airline pilot voice. It worked! Everyone quieted down. Sully would have been proud.

I was right about the timing. In what seemed like an eternity, but – in reality – was just a few minutes, our rescue team arrived! We were all going to be okay!

The maintenance team had obviously determined the source of the problem, and we all watched intently as one of the technicians removed a panel and manipulated some unseen controls. And then, to our great delight and with the accompanying cheers and applause of the whole group, our escalator began to move once again!

— Jerry Tobias

Jerry Tobias is an aviation writer who flew everything from supersonic military aircraft to Boeing 747s during a 40-year career as an Air Force, corporate and airline pilot. He also speaks as an aviation safety specialist and as a motivational speaker discussing life lessons learned through aviation.

Tech dumb

The human race will soon adapt to have sharply curved necks and slender thumbs straight from the womb, and baby’s first word will be a compound one: iPad, Facebook, Smartphone.

People not obsessed with tech will be weeded out by natural selection as the ones too primitive to survive. After all, we’re the only ones openly flouting progress and convenience. We’re the ones still getting lost, because our dumb phones aren’t telling us which exit to take, and we forgot how to read a map while going 65 mph. We’re the ones saying Pin-interest instead of Pinterest (Oh, is that just me? My teenager corrects me all the time!) And we’re the dweebs still reading newspapers and magazines in doctors’ offices, the car line and coffee shops.

All of this makes us pretty conspicuous. If the techies ever look up from their devices to notice we’re still around, there’s no telling what they might do!

The day might come when it’s no longer just a look of confusion and disgust that greets us when we produce our flip phones. They might make laws against anyone driving on a freeway without Siri’s supervision. We might get pushed out of the job market, because we don’t have access to email 3,000 times a day. There might even be laws against us breeding. Without ready access to Google in bed, how will we know we’re doing it right?

Still, I defiantly declare that there are advantages to not being one of the Smartphone — or tablet-fondling crowd. Here are a few:

We still understand the term “social function.” (No, it’s not a group invite on Facebook.)

If we spill coffee on our newspaper or drop a library book in the toilet, we don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to replace it.

We can write without once using abbreviations such as lol, TMI or IMHO.

Our necks are youthful and supple instead of prematurely wrinkled. No tech neck!

Instead of suffering from nearsightedness caused by staring too long at tiny screens while engrossed in Facebook, we have only slight farsightedness from staring off into the distance, engrossed in our own thoughts.

So we’ll just keep rebelling, thank you very much. After all, somebody should be looking up often enough to catch the sunset, enjoy the scenery and notice where the children or Grandma ran off to.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org and was recently published at Hahas for Hoohas. She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Happy stinking new year

I may have this whole so-called “New Year’s resolution” thing figured out. For years I’ve lost and gained back about 1,000 pounds. The thing is that it’s hard to stay on a big-time diet when you’ve decided long ago to be okay with yourself no matter where you fall on the fat spectrum.

The only thing that helps people like me stick with any diet is our impending death. When you get to be 50 or older, staying alive sort of becomes the focus. Especially amidst all those reports of folks who didn’t make it to the end of 2016. You start to think that they must have eaten a lot of sausage and Snickers bars.

But I have to say, the world gives us a mixed message. We’re supposed to love ourselves right where we are no matter what, but then again we’re supposed to fix anything that’s “wrong” with us — for me that’s what Chris Farley referred to as “a little bit of a weight problem.”

Oh, I’ve definitely decided again that I’ll get back on the elliptical and kick my own ass as we begin this new year. But I have to say I’ve only decided to do it because I’ve got three kids and a husband who, I think, still want me around. If it was up to me alone, I’d gorge myself on Almond Joys and chicken wings and give everybody the finger.

I’ve got one go-around here — as far as I know — I’d like it to be as pleasant as possible.

This means I’m going to find my loose sweatpants (that’s right, I do have tight sweatpants in my bottom drawer) and get back up there on those stupid foot pedal things. My problem is that I’ve lost weight before and experienced that whole “your numbers are down” thing. This leaves me thinking that there’s something to eating kale with lemon and not unwrapping that first Hershey’s Kiss. Why does everything have to be so not fun?

I was talking to someone the other day, somebody I’d just met. We were at the 50th birthday party of a good friend. I said, “No matter what my age is, I feel like I’m 12 inside.”

This didn’t really go over as I’d planned. I got one of those Chris Farley “Oh, she lives in a van down by the river” looks. Keep in mind, this guy I was talking to would’ve gauged about an 8 on the ol’ “pinch and pull” body fat meter.

I have no idea why I shared that little “I feel like I’m 12” line with a stranger. I should have known it might not go over. I guess it’s best not to talk to newly met people when you’re talking about personal problems. I’ve found that they really aren’t that interested in my weight and/or my choice of antidepressants. This always leads me to thinking that they’re somewhat snobbish. Whatever, it obviously wasn’t a great idea

So, I guess the bottom line is that I need to wake up earlier, grab my loose sweatpants and put my foot to the pedal if I expect to live another year or so.

I have to say it gets tiresome. The whole worrying about your body fat index and eating everything steamed and cookies made from mashed chickpeas. Is this the way we’re supposed to live?

I guess it makes for interesting conversation. Maybe we talk about this stuff one-on-one because we don’t want it pasted all over social media. Maybe that’s the up side.

— Connie Berry

Connie Berry grew up reading and loving Erma Bombeck. She is former editor of The Catholic Sun newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and a new resident of Martha’s Vineyard where she was copy editor for the Vineyard Gazette. She lives on the island with her husband and youngest son. Her two older children read her blog, thejoblessgoddess.blogspot.com, from Syracuse.

All in good taste

As a seasoned gourmand (I am usually seasoned with oregano because I am no sage), I know enough about food to give expert advice on which wine goes with Slim Jims (red) and which goes with Twinkies (white).

In fact, I have always had a burning desire, which sometimes happens in the kitchen, to be a restaurant critic. And I recently got my chance when I went out with a real restaurant critic to review an eatery where I passed judgment on the menu, which wasn’t edible (too chewy) but did contain lots of tasty offerings.

The restaurant was Tra’mici, a cozy Italian spot in Massapequa Park, New York, and the critic was Melissa McCart, who has written sparkling reviews for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Newsday of Long Island. Accompanying us on this gastronomic adventure was Janelle Griffith, a talented feature writer for Newsday.

Our waiter was Marco Gervasi, who introduced himself by saying he would be our waiter (these formalities are very important in the service experience) and commented that there was an empty fourth seat at our table.

“Sit down,” I urged him. “Are you hungry?” I got up, put a white cloth napkin over my arm and said, “I’m Jerry. I’ll be your waiter.”

I could tell by the look in Marco’s eye (his other eye was blank) that he knew he was in for a long night.

Then he asked if we wanted anything to drink. Melissa and Janelle ordered white wine, even though Twinkies were not among the entrees.

“I’ll have a glass of red,” I said.

“How about a cab?” Marco asked.

“If I drink enough of them,” I answered, “I’ll have to hail a cab for the ride home.”

Marco, who looked like he could use a drink himself, smiled and dutifully went away.

He returned shortly afterward with not only our wine but a plate of hors d’oeuvres, which contained not horses (pardon my French) but salami, prosciutto and cheese, along with olives. They tickled the palate. I soothed the tickle with a sip of wine. It was fragrant but not haughty. And vice versa.

For the main course, Melissa ordered Orecchiette alla Barese, served with broccoli rabe and sausage, and Janelle ordered Fettuccine al doppio burro, which did not (pardon my Italian) contain a stupid donkey.

When I expressed interest in a steak, Marco suggested Filetto (filet mignon with mashed potatoes, broccoli rabe and red wine reduction).

“The meat is cured,” he noted.

“Cured?” I said nervously. “What was wrong with it?”

“I can’t tell you,” Marco replied.

I ordered it anyway.

When our dinners came out, all three of us daintily dug in. Then we tried each other’s meals, which is how restaurant critics get a taste of several menu items in one sitting (it’s not a good idea to stand while eating) and can determine what’s good and, in some cases, what isn’t.

After Melissa sampled my steak, she said, “Yours is the winner.”

“Umph, umph, umph,” I agreed, even though it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full of food.

This shared tasting must be done inconspicuously or the restaurant staff will suspect that a critic is in the house. In fact, Marco asked me, “What do you do?”

“As little as possible,” I told him.

“No, really,” he insisted. “What do you do?”

I looked around furtively and whispered, “I stick up restaurants.”

Marco hurried away to get our dessert (salty caramel gelato) and possibly call the cops. He also must have alerted his boss, because the general manager came out to refill our water glasses.

“I’m Ben,” he said.

“I’m Jerry,” I responded, shaking his hand. “We should open an ice cream business.”

“It’s been done,” Ben stated.

“Then we’ll sue them,” I said. “Just as soon as my lawyer gets out of jail.”

“You can call it Jerry and Ben’s,” Janelle suggested.

Dessert was delicious, just like the rest of the meal. And the service was even better, which is saying something considering that Marco was working only his second shift at Tra’mici.

“What’s your day job?” I asked him.

“I’m a real estate agent,” Marco said.

“Do you get a commission on dinners?” I wondered.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s called a tip.”

He got a generous one. After dealing with me, he deserved it, which is why I am giving Tra’mici an excellent review.

“Keep up the good work,” I told Ben on the way out. “And give my compliments to the waiter.”

— 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 BestLeave 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 the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

The gift that cannot be regifted

Traditionally, people did not take down Christmas trees and other decorations until after the first Sunday in Epiphany, which this year would be Jan. 8, but nowadays we begin to see Christmas trees out on the curb on December 26.

Christmas is over; it is time to put the gifts away or return them or exchange them. And then comes the regifting. I don’t know about you, but I confess that I usually make three piles for my Christmas gifts: keep, return, regift. (Did you know that there is even a National Regifting Day — an annual observance held each year on the Thursday before Christmas? Who knew?).

I recently looked up on the Emily Post Institute website to find the protocols for receiving gifts. Rule number one on Ms. Post’s list is that when you open a gift in the presence of the giver is to thank the person enthusiastically. Even if the present is the last thing you wanted, thank the giver for his or her thoughtfulness, drawing on the actor in you to mask any disappointment. Be pleasant but non-committal, saying something like: “It’s so nice of you to think of me!” or “What a creative choice!” Or my personal favorite: “Oh my, you shouldn’t have; no, really you shouldn’t have.”

Last year, as I sorted my gifts into the requisite three piles and, much to my surprise, I only had one gift in the regift pile: a very, very expensive gift from someone who has been the bane of my existence. I was holding in my hands this very beautiful gift that had never been used (I know this because the return receipt was tucked inside with the PRICE of the gift clearly listed). Trust me; I did not want this gift from that person.

At Christmas dinner, I had a chance to chat with one of my family “aunties.” I told my auntie about the gift and about the giver and how I planned to either donate it to the Salvation Army or to Goodwill or perhaps to even re-gift it.

Auntie leaned over and looking me dead in the eye, said, “You can’t give away that gift. That was a gift asking for forgiveness; it was a gift of atonement. You have to keep that gift.”

Keep the gift?! Why, I don’t think I even want that gift in my house!!! And I told my auntie as much, to which she replied with a knowing smile, “Well, it’s a good thing you aren’t God then, isn’t it?”

Wow! God? The God who forgives me every day — often times more than once a day — who never turns me away? That God? Yet there I was, ready to regift a gift that can be neither returned nor regifted: the gift of love, of mercy, of grace, and of forgiveness.

Let me confess right here that I did not keep the very expensive and unexpected gift I received from my nemesis. But just so you know, per Emily Post, I did send the giver a very profuse and genuine handwritten note of thanks. And because I already had this same gift item and did not need it, again according to Emily Post, I could give it to someone else if : 1) I told the person that I already have one and, very importantly; 2) it was not gift wrapped.

Maya Angelou once wrote, “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” Yes, that unwanted, extravagant gift I received last Christmas turned out to be one of the best gifts I have ever received because it gave me an opportunity to remember that there is one gift that can never be regifted.

— Westina Matthews

Westina Matthews is an author, public speaker, retreat leader, professor and a contemplative spiritual director. A tiny mustard seed motivates Westina who has found a way to connect with others through a series of poignant spiritual books, essays, reflections and her teaching. After residing in New York City for more than 30 years, she is now writing along the banks of the Wilmington River in Savannah, Georgia.

Cure for the common cold

On New Year’s Eve, with no bubbly in sight, my husband started hiccuping, or hiccoughing as he would spell it. Uh oh, I thought, he’s getting a cold.

I dosed him with vitamin C in the form of Clementines, cups of sweet, hot tea and homemade elderberry cough syrup. He grimaced and muttered at all my attempts, so I gave up and went to bed. Later, I was awakened from a sound sleep by a cacaphonus hiccup accompanied by an echoing, hacking cough. “Arrrrgh-h-h-h!” I groaned.

“Sorry,” he whispered. He always attempts to be very quiet so as not to wake me. He twisted and yanked at the covers and  finally settled onto his side. “HUH-HUHH-CK,” he said. “Sorry.”

He was asleep instantly, but the staccato sounds continued. I pulled my pillow over my head. “Try holding your breath.”

“Why?”

“To stop your hiccups,” I said, though from experience I knew it would not.

He didn’t even try. The bursts continued until I suggested that he might sleep better if he went into the other bedroom.

“Why would I sleep better there?”

“Because I won’t poke you all night!”

He clomped down the hall and I drifted to sleep. I knew I hadn’t handled that well, but, I rationalized, no one dies from hiccups.

Later still, Peter got up to use the bathroom, but forgot he was sleeping in the guest room. He returned to our bed, grabbed for the covers but instead got my arm which I’d flung across to his side. Both of us yelped. “What are you doing?” I said.

“Coming back to bed…I thought you were sleeping in the other room…”

“No, you were!” He plodded back down the hall.

Sunday morning, froggy-voiced, weepy-eyed, drippy-nosed and still hiccuping, he croaked, “Good morning.” His voice was in the basement.

“How do you feel?” I asked. He patted himself all over and grinned. I rolled my eyes. That’s always his answer to my how-do-you-feel question.

His symptoms continue to this moment. He’s in the next room watching television, hacking and sniffling and still hiccuping endlessly. When I asked how his cold was this morning, he shook his head and said indignantly, “Cold? I don’t have a cold. Sneezing a bit, that’s all.” He coughed hard enough to untie his shoes and knock his socks off.

And that, Readers, is how I discovered the cure for the common cold, at least at our house. Dementia, dementia, that’s the cure. Peter insists he is not sick, does not have a cold or a cough or a hiccough. Since he doesn’t have a cold, there’s nothing for me to catch.

Knocks the achoo right out of the Kleenex factory, doesn’t it?

— 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 placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 2016 writing competition, in the category of online, blog, multimedia under 100,000 unique visitors. This essay originally appeared on her Dementia Isn’t Funny blog.

This Gift is Personal: Bombecks Donate $20,000; Campaign Tops $60,000

Some of the biggest enthusiasts of the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop have a heartfelt reason for supporting the workshop’s endowment fund.

To the Bombeck family, Erma’s legacy is personal.

That’s why they’ve made a $20,000 gift through the Arizona Community Foundation as part of the workshop’s first major fundraising campaign.

“The University of Dayton, and now the Writers’ Workshop, are both a part of our mom’s legacy.  What better way to honor her then to help support writers from across the country to learn, to laugh and be inspired,” said Matt Bombeck, Erma’s son and a screenwriter in Los Angeles.

After the workshop received a $20,000 challenge gift from an anonymous donor this fall, organizers launched a drive to match it. To date, without final yearend gifts tallied, the Bombecks and other supporters have stepped forward to more than meet that challenge.

The campaign’s unofficial $61,000 total includes a five-year $5,000 pledge from Vicki Giambrone ‘81, former president of the University of Dayton’s Alumni Association who helped launch the inaugural workshop, and a $2,520 contribution from the University’s communication department, which co-sponsors the event. Other major gifts included a $2,500 donation from Bob Daley ’55, a retired journalist and communications professional who’s helped plan every workshop, and $2,000 from novelist/comedy writer Anna Lefler, an EBWW faculty member. Other gifts ranged from $1,000 to $10.

All funds will be used to help keep the nationally renowned workshop affordable for writers and support programming.

“We’re so grateful to all of our supporters and offer a special thanks to the Bombeck family for their generous show of faith in the workshop we started together in 2000. Their devotion to sustaining Erma’s legacy is inspiring. The family’s presence at every workshop reminds us that this is a legacy worth preserving,” said Teri Rizvi, founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Rizvi expressed appreciation to the major donors and the approximately 100 writers, faculty, keynoters and friends of the workshop who stepped forward to support the workshop: “I’m thankful for their belief in the power of this workshop to inspire and encourage writers. Erma found that same inspiration and encouragement while a student at the University of Dayton, where she first heard three life-changing words from her English professor, ‘You can write!’”

On #GivingTuesday — an international day of philanthropy on Nov. 29 — nearly 50 writers-turned-social media champions jumped into action with donations, words of support and creative #UNselfies. Here’s a sampling of some of their reasons for supporting the campaign:

• “Gratefully paying it forward for the tremendous gift that Erma Bombeck and her family gave me!” — Mary Kay Fleming

• “I support the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop because it literally changed my life. I’m a better person — creatively, spiritually, personally — not only because of the education, but because of the friends I’ve made at EBWW.” — Joanne Keltz Brokaw

• “I got my start at EBWW!!” — Tracy Beckerman

• “Thanks EBWW for helping me internalize the words — You can write!” — Becky Koop

• “I’m proud to donate to EBWW! The world needs as much quality humor as it can get!” — Anna Lefler

• “EBWW helped me find my funny.” — Kate Mayer

• “The writer in me came out @EBWW! Thank you!” — Astra Groskaufmanis

• “Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will improve your writing, and your life.” — Amy Sherman

• “Erma gave Moms a voice and her EBWW legacy gives writers a pathway to shine on in her memory.” — Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

• “I support EBWW because it is three days of laughter, learning and loads of inspiration.” — Christy Heitger-Ewing

In 2004, University of Dayton alumnus Ralph Hamberg and his wife Cindy gave a $100,000 gift to start a workshop endowment fund in memory of her cousin, Brother Tom Price, S.M., the English professor who launched Erma’s career with three simple words of encouragement. The Hamberg family, the Bombeck family, workshop faculty members, volunteers, writers and other supporters continue to contribute to the endowment fund. In 2015, actress and playwright Mary Lou Quinlan brought her one-woman show, “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story,” to campus for two benefit performances for the endowment. That effort raised nearly $33,000.

The University of Dayton’s Alumni Association underwrites the cost of scholarships that allow between 25 and 30 University of Dayton students to attend the workshop for free. The University of Dayton’s Human Resources Office provides 10 scholarships for faculty and staff.

The next workshop is slated for April 5-7, 2018.

Reflections of Erma