A few years ago my former employer sent me to an off-site computer training course. It had been a long time since I was a student, and I was excited about the chance to learn, but the class started significantly earlier than my normal work day so I was only half awake and carrying a to-go bucket of coffee that first morning when I walked into our classroom.
I was one of the first students there and the instructor grinned happily at me and shook my hand, but I pushed past him with the slightest of smiles. Nothing personal, I said with my eyes, I just had to hurry to grab the highly sought after but still open introvert seat: the one in the back corner, farthest from the instructor.
He was a big guy, tall and thick and red-faced but friendly and clearly — unlike me — at home up there in front of a crowd. He was wearing a suit and a tie but didn’t seem too psyched about that, pulling at the tie and at his pants in a way that reminded me uncannily (and quite fondly) of Chris Farley in those old down-by-the-river SNL skits.
I claimed my seat, setting my bag down and draping my coat over the chair. I was about to set my coffee-bucket down in the center of the work station when I saw it. Taped to the computer was a sign; or more specifically a sticky note upon which someone had scribbled “no food or drink please!” with the dot part of the exclamation point a little smiley face. I looked from my coffee-bucket to the sign, and back again, like a sleepy spectator at a morality tennis match. I was a rule follower. More accurately, I was a back corner lurker who didn’t want to attract attention to herself.
BUT I WAS SO TIRED, I rationalized, clinging to my coffee the way my children now cling to their blankies. And surely they weren’t targeting the likes of me, a reasonable minded coffee drinker, with this hastily scribbled sign? And further, could we really even call it a “sign”? Post it notes were not the medium people chose to deliver important rules. God did not have Moses scribble the commandments on a Post it note. For all I knew this was left here by the last person who sat in the introvert seat. Yes! Maybe she had been struggling to stick to her diet and needed a visual reminder, and this post it was more a sad forgotten remnant than a stern warning.
Maybe I should ask the instructor.
“Coffee? Oh yes of course. Drink up, sister!” I imagined the Chris Farley look-alike saying. And then we would clink our mugs together and nod knowingly at each other and be forever fast friends. Except no, because I was really far away from him back in the corner and he either didn’t hear me when I mumbled, “Is this cool?” into my scarf and pointed in the general direction of my coffee bucket or, more likely, he let his complete absence of reaction to me be his (affirmative) answer.
Then these three things happened, in this order and all within the next 30 seconds:
1. I smugly and defiantly sipped my coffee.
2. My new bestie started class.
3. I spilled my coffee.
Oh and it went everywhere, pooling on the desk in front of me and dripping into my lap and down my legs. I looked around the class, panicked, trying to gauge if anyone had seen, but no one was paying attention. I realized that really only my head was visible to them anyway, the rest of my body obstructed from view by the computer monitor I sat behind and the desk it sat on. If I continued to look very, very engaged in the instructor’s lecture, I decided, I could probably clean this up without anyone ever knowing. So I gritted my teeth against the burns on my legs, locked my eyes maniacally onto the instructor, and quick unwrapped my scarf from around my neck so I could use it to sop up the puddles.
When I was done — and without breaking my focus on the instructor, who had started to sweat and look a little uncomfortable like my eyes might bore holes into his forehead — I shoved the wet scarf and the now empty bucket into my bag and settled back into my chair, fully prepared to never acknowledge that this had even happened to anyone, ever.
And then I realized my keyboard wasn’t working right. In fact, it wasn’t working at all, despite my increasingly desperate attempts to get it to respond to my violent finger-stabbing. The instructor saw me struggling and came over, poised for action. “My keyboard seems to have stopped working,” I explained, throwing my hands up lamely.
It all happened so fast after that. I must have blinked, and when my eyes opened he had dropped onto the floor and crawled under the desk by my legs. For one very confusing moment I remembered how I used to have a boyfriend in middle school who sometimes would sit under the lunch table and hold my legs while I ate, and I wondered if the instructor had taken my unwavering eye contact as something more than it really had been.
“What are you doing there, buddy?” I bent and whispered to him. No sense embarrassing the sweet guy. After all, I had been the one staring.
“I’m checking your keyboard connections,” he answered, but it was muffled because he was under a desk and turned away from me, which also meant that when I had bent down to whisper to him I had basically put my face directly into the good six inches of butt crack that was now exposed and at my eye level. A little involuntary noise of alarm snorted out of me and my rolling chair shot backwards into the wall behind me, taking me with it. I straightened up just in time for the back of my head to make contact with the wall.
“Hey, are you wearing scented lotion?” He asked from under the desk. “I like it. It smells a little like coffee, right?”
Everyone was staring. I rubbed my head and contemplated bursting into tears, but then with some grunts and a lot of pants and tie adjusting, he emerged from under the desk, his face as red as a tomato and sweat now dripping from the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, everything looks good down there,” he said, shrugging. I considered taking this as a leg compliment, although clearly it was not. “I don’t know. I’m just gonna have to swap this keyboard out with a new one.” He swept my (now disconnected) keyboard up from the desk, and as he turned to walk back towards the front of the room it tilted just a little and coffee started to pour of it and onto the floor.
He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at the growing brown puddle on the floor.
The entire class, actually, stared at the brown puddle on the floor.
“Is that…?” he trailed off.
“Coffee, maybe?” I offered quickly, before someone could suggest something else brown but worse.
He rubbed the back of his head the same way I had a few seconds prior and looked back at me, the keyboard in his hand still dripping. “What in the hell?”
I knew this was the defining moment. I could have come clean and owned it. I could have shrugged and explained that it was my first training class and I didn’t know any better and if they really wanted people to follow rules, they probably shouldn’t punctuate them with smiley faces. I should have. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. From the moment he had plunged under my desk and my face had gone into his a** I had known we were too far into this for me ever, ever to admit the truth.
I was paralyzed.
“Humph,” I said, shrinking down in my seat so only my eyebrows were visible over the monitor, “that’s super weird,” which technically, if you think about it, is not exactly a lie because the whole thing really WAS super weird.
And I never made eye contact with him again, not even when he came back a few minutes later with a new keyboard for me, and to his credit, went on to teach a whole weeklong class without ever calling me on what the whole room already knew: that I had been too chicken-sh** to admit to my own rule-breaking truth.
At the close of the week, when he asked if anyone would like to fill out a short survey about his performance, I practically jumped him to grab one. “YES. ME. I would.” I gave him a glowing review. And in it, under the “additional suggestions” section, I wrote: “this man is the picture of dignity. Please consider giving him both a raise and a break on the dress code. I think he would be more comfortable without the tie. Also consider having disposable coffee cups available. With lids.”
It was, truly, the least I could do.
— Liz Petrone
Liz Petrone is a mama, yogi, writer, warrior, wanderer, dreamer, doubter and hot mess. She lives in a creaky old house in Central New York with her ever-patient husband, their four babies and an excitable dog named Boss, and shares her stories on her blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.
It fills the entire room and what little gray matter I have left between my ears. All three hands on the clock incriminate 12 as the reason for all the hoopla.
The start of a new year, the chance to start anew. January the oneth.
Now two minutes into January I’m breaking my wife’s New Year resolution (for me) as I trace a line with my belt buckle all around the top three inches of the midnight buffet.
She’s decided that one of my New Year resolutions was to cut down on my calorie intake. I countered by promising never to eat more than I can lift at any one time. Which my plate, at this very point in time was challenging me with.
Plate piled high (but moveable), veins in my forearms and forehead protruding, I carefully navigate toward a feeding area and trip over a sleeping grandkid. I attempt to stay upright, but fail. Now linear, I verbally express my disappointment at failing my first resolution. I then go on to express more disappointment about grandma’s country estate dish pattern now in pieces scattered across the floor. To which , the once sleeping angelic cherub, turns on me and announces that another dollar was to occupy the potty mouth jar. Now a second resolution broken.
In my defense, it wasn’t an adult swear word. I just happened to mention an immovable object that holds back water as my, not one, but three chins and midnight snack were hitting the floor.
Two New Year resolutions down and the hands in the clock were closer together than my thumb and index finger. How many more resolutions would end on this night? How many were there? She had made me a list, but I had left it at home. That in itself could be a violation of a resolution.
I have come to believe that New Year resolutions are a woman’s thing. Let’s face it, ladies, if it were up to us guys we would just keep going wayward in all our bad habits.
We could be 30 pounds overweight, walk naked past a full-length mirror, suck in our gut and with two fingers pointed at our reflection, like the bartender from The Love Boat, make a clicking sound between our teeth and gums and pity the poor woman who could refuse this.
If guys ever start to feel like they might be getting a bit too excessive in any one bad habit, we just look for an example worse than ourselves and find comfort that we aren’t as bad as “that guy.”
And it doesn’t even have to be the same fault!
When a woman perceives herself overweight, she is always jealous of skinnier women and will set goals to lose weight.
With guys if, let’s say, he’s 30 pounds overweight and might somehow feel less than perfect, he doesn’t look at a healthier male as a goal but rather finds fault in his buddy’s choice of vehicles to better his self image. “Phffft, the guy drives a 64 split window Corvette. Thing has a huge blind spot!”
So what if we’ve gone from eye candy to eye broccoli! Accept us, ladies.
Happy happy happy is the couple when the wife has dropped that girlfriend promise they all make to each other: “I’m going to change him.”
You know that promise all you women make when you announce to your friends of your intended betrothed. “If he asks me to marry, I’ll say yes. Oh I know he’s always kidding around, he’s overweight, has no sense of style and his hair is a disaster, but I promise you once we’re married, I’ll change him into the man I’ve always wanted.”
And with the start of each new year you revisit that challenge you’ve placed on yourself by encouraging him to look inward and make a resolution to do better.
Or, you take a more proactive approach and make him a list.
It seems like the only day of the year it’s appropriate. Oh sure you think a change is needed every time you look at him as he watches his Scooby-Doo cartoons. All in his sweat pants finery, with his matching ripped T-shirt. That once crazy head of hair now all wispy and thin as it clings on, fights the good fight to remain on his head. And it’s not like he can’t grow hair cause now his back, ears and nose all support some sort of exotic growth.
Well, at least he doesn’t laugh so much anymore. Life sorta solved that problem.
So ladies as you enter your “Stop-n-Start” season, we on the sidelines wish you well. As you stop the many things you perceive in your life as wrong or bad, and start to do better in mind, body and soul, go forth knowing we are somewhere behind you. We might notice your hair is cut different, or you’ve lost a few pounds or you’ve adopted a favorite frock rather than buy a new one.
We might. …then again, we might not. But please forgive us, we’re men. This is a rough season for us as you go about trying to better with your life and us along with it. You go, girl! Do your thing! But we’re happy minding the small things that somehow take up our time.
Men, take comfort as you watch the wife and her girlfriend power walk out of the driveway. They, and many women like them, all walking and jogging around the neighborhood while you, with coffee and doughnut in hand, survey their struggles from the comfort of your domain. To us January the oneth is college football, not a day to get all excited about changing things all around.
Relax. There’ll be another list next year…or sooner.
— Bob Niles
Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names), honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs here.
Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.
That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the childriarchs; Dave and Guillaume, the sons-in-lawiarch; and Chloe and Lilly, the granddaughtersiarch.
It sure has been an exciting 2016 for the Zezimas!
Jerry had a particularly exciting year, which began with the publication of his third book, “Grandfather Knows Best.” Like his first two books, “Leave It to Boomer” and “The Empty Nest Chronicles,” it’s a crime against literature. It also comes in handy for propping up wobbly table legs. Somehow, it didn’t make the New York Times bestseller list.
Jerry reached the pinnacle of his journalism career when he got a paper route. On a rainy night, he helped his newspaper carrier fling papers into subscribers’ driveways and returned a lost dog to her grateful owners, which was the best delivery of all.
Jerry also completed his two-year term as president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists without running that otherwise august organization into the ground. Members attending the NSNC conference in Los Angeles celebrated with a four-letter word: beer.
Jerry’s other adventures included being a server for a night at a restaurant. To ensure that the place wouldn’t go under, he waited on his own family (Sue, Lauren, Guillaume and Chloe) and got a nice tip: Don’t quit your day job.
That same group went bowling and Chloe, in an outing to celebrate her third birthday, beat everybody in the first game. She kindly let Jerry, whom she helped roll a strike and a spare in two late frames, win the second game.
Chloe also had her first sleepover at Nini and Poppie’s house and began a tradition of making breakfast (scrambled eggs, sausage, toast and a bagel) with Jerry, whose scant culinary skills pale in comparison with those of his granddaughter.
Chloe got her first haircut (Jerry got one the same weekend, approximately his millionth) and got her first big-girl bed, where she keeps her stuffed friends. (Jerry, who goes to bed when he’s stuffed, keeps pajamas and other dirty clothes on his.)
Sue and Jerry refinanced the mortgage on their house, a hellish process that took months and was almost undone by a three-year-old unpaid traffic ticket. Now Jerry is afraid to drive to the bank to pay the new mortgage.
Jerry turned 62, which means he is eligible for Social Security and can, if he wants, retire. Considering his financial obligations (see above), he is convinced he will be working posthumously.
Speaking of death, Sue and Jerry lost Bernice, the last of their four cats, who at age 17 went to that big litter box in the sky. To fill the void (Bernice was fat), they welcomed Maggie, their sweet granddog, who is 11 and living with them temporarily. She keeps the house safe by being a canine alarm system, which makes her more valuable than Jerry.
Katie and Dave, both journalists living in Washington, D.C., had lots to report on this year and learned the wisdom of the late, great humorist Art Buchwald, who also was based in the nation’s capital and famously wrote, “You can’t make anything up anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.” Katie and Dave record it very well.
For the record, the best thing to happen in the family in 2016 was the birth of Lilly, Lauren and Guillaume’s beautiful baby daughter. Everyone loves the adorable girl, including Chloe, who kisses her little sister and helps Lauren and Guillaume take care of her. So does Sue. Jerry tells her jokes, just as he does with Chloe. When you’re a grandfather, that’s your job.
Merry Christmas with love and laughter from the Zezimas.
— 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 the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
You plunk down the entry fee, hoping to be the lucky dog that wins the first-place pay-off of $40 (big money for writing contests!). Never mind that 150,000 other writers with more experience, creativity and contest-submission savvy are entering, too. This is fun, you chuckle to yourself.
The first steps down this slippery slope are reading a call for submissions, and remembering that dusty piece you’ve had stashed, homeless, in a desk drawer for six months. Calculating that an obscure topic (Emily Dickinson: Role Model for Writer Networking or The Upbeat Prose of Franz Kafka) will enhance your chances of winning, you hone and polish the article, cramming it into an envelope with a check, or if your husband hid the checkbook, cash.
You succumb to the notion that multiple submissions will increase your odds of winning. Entering five poems requires a $15 fee. Postage will cost you a buck-fifty. First place pays $40. If you win, your take will be $23.50. That will cover the cost of entering one, maybe two, more contests. You notice that this would be an excellent “story problem” for an elementary math text and decide to research the Writer’s Market for potential publishers.
One magazine I subscribe to has this racket down to a science. This rag doesn’t alert you by mail if you are a winner — you must scan the issue published three months after the contest deadline. You continue to take the magazine to see if you won. Subtract the subscription cost ($22) and your winnings are now down to $1.50. Since you write at the local coffee shop, subtract another $2 for the soy latte and the magazine owes you 50 cents (they ignore your letters to that effect).
You know you’ve got a “contest problem” when your family hints that they’re gathering for an intervention. Maybe you morph into Count Dracula while wrestling your husband for the mailbox key to check for the latest issue; or perhaps, like me, you’ve worn through your second copy of The Little Train that Could, your favorite inspirational title. It has pictures.
Literary contests take us through the same stages of grieving. Denial, the first, darkens our judgment before entering (I know the odds are in my favor this time) and reappears upon receipt of the issue announcing the winners (there must be a misprint!). That poem you’ve entered for the short story contest does tell a story, doesn’t it? Well! If the judges are going to be that narrow minded… The second stage, anger, bubbles up when you’ve scanned the back half of the magazine for the umpteenth time, line by line without finding your name. You throw the second-rate publication against the living room wall and swear off literary contests. Again.
Next, you bargain with God (you’ll tithe if only…), your husband (stalwart in the face of sexual blackmail) and the magazine editors ($3 bribes don’t go far). This strategy fails when God arranges that your child (nicknamed Pigpen) moves back home to save money to buy a house, your husband gives you that smug stubborn look and shakes his head no, and the editors send a carefully worded note to suggest professional counseling. You lie in bed, depressed.
Finally, you reach acceptance. But what part of the experience do you accept? The lie that you must be the worst writer on earth? No, you accept that the judges are all idiots…
No wonder so many writers drink. Hey, can I get a shot of something stronger in that latte?
— Cynthia Washington
Cynthia Washington is a freelance writer living in the rainy northwest. Despite the rain and clouds, she finds humor and joy in everyday events. Published in multiple magazines and online venues, Cynthia still believes she will make money at writing, but not through writing contests. She is teachable.
The lady sitting next to me on the subway with blonde tresses and a raspy voice proudly says, “I am going to lose 20 pounds.” Translation: wah wah wah. Just stop.
A man in my apartment complex asserts, “I am going to quit eating sugar.” Translation: wah wah wah whatever!
A hung-over mama in my spin class says, “I am going to drink less” in between wheezes as she chugs along on the bike and according to her on way less Vodka on the Rocks. Translation: wah wah wah. How boring.
Or more precisely STFU! Just stop, stop, stop. Please stop. Setting these goals that will never happen! Never. Ever. Happen.
I am like the revenge-seeking Grinch that stole New Year’s resolutions. I come with my big brown bag tossing people’s New Year’s dreams out the window, and then retreating back to the outskirts of Whoville. Like come on, why do I need a New Year to tell me to be a better person? Plus, I feel like most New Year’s resolutions are about weight and that makes me very angry on another level. My overall frumpiness feels threatened and my inner ninja fights back hard.
When I think of New Year’s Eve in my early 20s, I picture myself getting all dolled up in a slutty dress with way too much boobage popping out. I’d cover the girls in a cardigan that I would never take off (ironically feeling too slutty…) and high heels that I’d wobble around all night in like an elephant on stilts. Starting the night out walking confidently filled with high expectations, piss and vinegar, and whatever weight goal I set for myself starting tomorrow.
By the end of the night, and only God knows how many drinks, my head would be in the toilet, shoes in hand — barefooting the streets of New York — crying “I want my mommy” like my daughter does. Because dammit, when I don’t feel well,I want my mommy. Don’t judge.
What makes me so bitter? Well let me fill you in where my deep hate stems from.
I personally don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions because I think you should better yourself every day. I know a very Brady Bunch answer, but it’s true. A part of me doesn’t like them even more because a number provokes it. On Jan. 1, you are supposed to start whatever your goal is and pursue it hard — weighing it on a figurative scale of your success every day. Like an eating disorder, you are setting yourself up for disaster. This is why I advise you to evolve healthily each and every day of the year.
Every day, try to respect your body, always be true to yourself, don’t waste your time on nonsense, and spend your time with the people who love you the way you are. Most importantly, you will never be everyone’s perfect person, so just be YOU — that unique, vibrant, amazing person I know each of you are. It’s easy to be you everyday, and not fail at it. So just do what comes naturally.
This year, my first New Year’s Eve in my 30s, it will be my hubby and me in bed, watching New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2017 or hopefully some Bravo special countdown — I can only hope, this is my plea Andy Cohen! My daughter will be fast asleep in her crib. Again, I can only hope. And it will be absolutely perfect. No expectations except for a kiss from my husband at midnight. And I couldn’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year. Just like every other day.
— Danielle Sherman-Lazar
Dani is four years in recovery from anorexia and bulimia, vice president of a transportation company, and a mother to a nine-month-old. Hobbies (when she has a minute to breathe!) include reading, writing or blogging, anything on Bravo (she is not afraid to admit her reality-tv/Real Housewives of Anywhere addiction) and the occasional workout. She has been published on Bluntmoms. Follow her on her blog, Living a Full Life After ED and like her on Facebook.
(Editor’s Note: Yes, Kate, there is a Santa Claus. Ann Hudock writes a touching rebuttal to a friend’s daughter — and to all those who doubt his existence. “I’m sharing here in case there are any other doubters out there,” Ann writes. “Let’s get this straight: Santa. Is. Real.”)
Your mom mentioned that you might not believe in Santa anymore. This is really so surprising to me that I just wanted to make sure it isn’t some kind of crazy misunderstanding?
Maybe you think you are too old to believe in Santa? Well I’m 48 and I believe in him with my whole heart. Maybe you should believe and just reassess when you are 48 because I can tell you my experience he is real.
Maybe you think you are too smart to believe in Santa. I know you are super smart like your mom and dad, but, honestly Kate, I have a Ph.D., and I still believe. I know how to analyze data (qualitative anyway), and all the evidence I have seen tells me he is real.
Maybe you have friends who tell you he isn’t real. Friends should always be trusted on matters of fashion and boyfriends, but on Santa you just have to look in your heart and decide what YOU believe.
Maybe you think he can’t really fly around the world on a sleigh. Well, Kate, I have had Christmas in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, Zambia and the U.K., and he has found me every single time. I’m going to Mexico this year, so if he doesn’t come, we can talk, but I know he will.
It’s up to you to decide what you believe, Kate, but you should also know this. In life behind every strong man there is a stronger woman and just as Santa is real, so is Mrs. Claus. She is running the show up there in the North Pole, not getting near enough credit or probably pay equity. So, if for no other reason, you need to believe in Santa until we can make things right for Mrs. Claus.
— Ann Hudock
Ann Hudock is a proud graduate of the University of Dayton (1990 and 1993) and the mother of four boys. She is the senior vice president for international programs at Plan International USA and loves the mission and vision of the organization dedicated to helping children around the world. She blogs at One Stiletto in Front of the Other: Moms in Trenches.
The moment my Dad lined the three of us up along the lip of our harvest gold and walnut couch, I knew it was a trap. I may have been seven years old, but I was savvy enough to see through “Do you know what Christmas is really about?”
“Jesus!” I proudly parroted, certain I had just saved myself and siblings from the ensuing spiel. And then he turned to my six-year-old brother.
“Do you know what Christmas is really about?”
Come on! Come on! You can do it! It’s a trick question. You just heard me say the answer.
Oh, thank God!
But then he turned to the toddler.
“Do you know what…”
I caved into the cushions as he launched into a lengthy lecture, one with too much information for my age and stage, that completely crushed that cute little Christ in a crèche and left me a very sinister second grader who had savagely slain someone with her sin.
When it was over, my brother and sister happily hurried off blissfully oblivious to their offense after becoming completely lost immediately after the opening bit about the babe in Bethlehem. However, the gravity of my guilt settled on my shoulders as I made my way over to the console TV where my mother had placed our nativity set, as she had done every year, ensuring we all would see it.
I surveyed the ceramics from Sears. There were the wise men still way off in the corner of the console working their way west for the Epiphany. The shepherd who carried his sheep for some reason rather than letting it walk. The ox and ass, who through stifled giggles allowed me to say “ass” at church. The angel with a clipped wing that had chipped when she slipped from her nail and crashed where the cradle should have been. And Mary and Joseph, all staring expectantly into the blank space where my youngest sibling would reach her chubby little fingers in on Christmas morning, to place the baby, ceremoniously signaling the start of our festivities.
All awaiting the arrival of Jesus, just so I could kill him.
It was a good thing I had been preparing to make my first confession in a couple of months. We had really only covered the venial sins in my Baltimore Catechism. You know, the little ones, like fighting with my brother and not making my bed. The stuff that would still let me into purgatory where I could be on a payment plan of penance. Nothing so dire it deserved damnation. But it turned out we should have been covering the mortal ones, because I was unwittingly a murderer!
Mrs. Johnson, my Wednesday night CCD teacher, had mentioned the mortal sins as a category not to concern our elementary school selves with because those were really big ones like killing someone…which I had apparently already done! And the only way to get a mortal sin off of your soul was to go to confession. So, I would have to sit and stew in my sinfulness until that Saturday in spring when I would finally be capable of confessing to this capital crime and cleanse it from my conscience. I was going to have to be extra careful not to take any unnecessary risks to ensure I survived until then!
Over the next several days, at recess, I stayed off of the ice my friends were so gleefully gliding across and sat on the steps. I skipped going to my best friend’s house after school. And every time we got in the car, I secured my seatbelt, even though this was 1980 and seatbelts were completely unnecessary unless we were on vacation and even then, I am pretty sure they were only required to keep us from climbing all over the car and driving my parents crazy on cross-country car trips.
I didn’t go out and play in the first snow of the season. I skipped sledding and stayed safely inside watching the neighbor kids out the dining room window. And this is when my mother was sure something was amiss.
“I know that Santa is watching, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want you to have any fun.” And then she winked.
Mom was well aware I knew who was what. I had known since kindergarten. It started with suspicions about The Tooth Fairy, then barreled through the Easter Bunny and snowballed right on over to Santa. I had always been an over-thinker and in a matter of minutes my five-year-old mind had managed to decimate the magic, much to my mother’s dismay.
But it stayed our little secret. She knew that I knew that she knew that I knew. But ne’er a word was said about it since that day more than two years earlier.
However, it wasn’t “Santa” that concerned me. It was that other guy in red. The one whose name also started with an “S.”
And as my worries piled up just like the snow outside, I finally could take it no longer.
“I don’t want anyone to die for me, I just want a Barbie.”
And then there were tears.
And a very simple response.
I don’t remember exactly what she said, only that she pointed out how very much she loved me. And if she could love me that much, to just think how much more God must love me and that Christmas and all the rest of it, in its simplest terms was about that love. And yes, there was a birth and a death, but there was a lot of living in between…and after. And so much living and loving for all of us to do as well.
And most importantly, she assured me that I was not a murderer and that dying for someone was something else entirely. And she let me in on a little secret…the best news of all.
I was getting a Barbie.
— Laura Becker
Laura Becker is an essayist who currently resides in Redondo Beach with her screenwriting partner/husband. Born in Missouri. Raised in Kansas. Adolescence/young adulthood in Iowa, which, according to Walter Neft in Double Indemnity, makes her a native Californian. She writes, quips, muses and laughs about almost anything…almost.
Rev glanced over, grinned again, then resumed her update. A lot had happened in the 20 years since they’d graduated from teachers’ college.
“I did get a teaching job. It was just part-time, though. But that was exactly what I wanted. Because, as you recall, I was working on my first novel. I was going to be a writer,” she said with mock enthusiasm. Mocking enthusiasm. “Yes I was.”
“What happened?” Dylan asked.
“Well you know what it was like back then. We were lucky if we got any kind of teaching job. Unless we wanted to teach English overseas. End of my first year, I was declared redundant.”
“There were two of you?” He giggled, then said, “I meant what happened to the ‘going to be a writer’ part.”
“Oh, I am a writer.”
“I write the questions that go on the LSAT.”
“You became a lawyer?”
“No, I don’t know anything about the law. Well, I do, but —”
“Ah-hah! I thought so!” He seemed so—pleased. “Misdemeanour?”
“Yeah — how did…” She glanced in the rear-view mirror before making a lane change to pass another stupid mini-van thing.
“The principal,” she sighed as she started the explanation. “I’d become a sub and after a few months of a day here and there, I got a long-term placement at one school — the principal caught me teaching my grade 10 boys how to put on a condom.”
“All of them at once?”
“Yes— no!” She reached over and cuffed him one. “It was a late and lazy Friday afternoon, and some of them were hubba-hubba-ing about their hot dates for the weekend, and I said something like, ‘You guys do know how to use a condom, right? ‘Cuz if you put it on wrong, it’ll bust, and you’ll end up a daddy.’”
“Bet that got their attention.”
“It did indeed.”
“So the principal laid charges?”
“I was ‘corrupting minors.’”
“Socrates would be proud. Still, it seems a bit over-reacting.”
“It wasn’t the first time.” He waited.
“I refused to stand for the anthem,” she said. “Every goddamned morning they wanted us to proclaim our allegiance. You’d think we were in the Soviet Union. Or the States. ‘Nationalism is…”
“an infantile disease,’” he finished the quote. “And the next time?”
“Well, the long-term placement got turned into a short-term placement…”
“Isn’t it usually the other way around?”
“Smart ass. At the next school,” she continued then, “I started a discussion club. I chose abortion as the opening topic.”
“Well, you can’t do that at St. Mary’s of the Eternally Blessed Virgin Who Never Goes To First Base Not Even If She Really Really Wants To. Especially If She Really Really Wants To…” he stopped then.
She looked over at him with inquiring eyebrows, but he didn’t elaborate. Didn’t really need to.
“It was a public school,” she said. “A regular public high school. Next time, it was something else. I can’t remember.”
“Yes, you can.”
“Yes, I can. The next time — oh, it doesn’t matter. The next time, when I…” She paused to find the right word, “left, I offered to sponsor an annual Award for Independent Thought. To be given each year to a graduating student chosen by the teaching staff. Each May, I’d send a book prize for the award. They’d give it out at the graduation ceremony in June.”
“The Awards Committee refused my offer. They said it would be too complicated to administer.”
“Ah, well, they’re administrators. The May-June thing probably stumped them.”
— Jass Richards
Jass Richards has a master’s degree in philosophy and for a (very) brief time was a stand-up comic (now she’s more of a sprawled-on-the-couch comic). Despite these attributes, she has received four Ontario Arts Council grants. In addition to her Rev and Dylan series (The Road Trip Dialogues, The Blasphemy Tour and License to Do That), which has reportedly made people snort root beer out their noses, she has written This Will Not Look Good on My Resume, a collection of short stories described as “a bit of quirky fun that slaps you upside the head.” “At the Beach” is excerpted from its sequel Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun. All of her books, including her most recent, TurboJetslams: Proof #29 of the Non-Existence of God, can be purchased (in print and various e-formats) at all the usual online places.