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Lift and separate

Cindy ArgientoAn article in USA Today reported that Playtex has come out with a more contemporary line of bras in hopes of gaining younger consumers and increasing sales.

Recently, I went bra shopping and was surprised at the latest styles. One style was memory foam. Is this really a good idea for the woman who has to lift her breast up off the floor before she puts on her bra? No woman wants to put on a bra and have it fall to the floor for her to step into. A bra should lift them up so no woman walks around hunched over all day. It’s bad for the back.

I have a memory foam mattress, which is great as it draws the invisible line down the bed’s center, keeping hubby on his side of the bed. Memory foam for a bed is good. Memory foam for a bra is not good.

One bra had a tag which read “Funny Shapes Fixed.” Would advertisers be so cruel and heartless to put such a label on a package of men’s underwear?

There was a mother and daughter in the fitting room next to me, and the daughter was trying on bras. I know because I heard the mother using phrases like, “It won’t give much support” and “You need more coverage.” The girl and I emerged from the dressing room at the same time. I looked at her and thought, “She’s young. Memory foam bras were made for her.”

I paid for my bras and the physical support guaranteed and then went home to get emotional support from my husband. Those memory foam bras can leave an emotional scar.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in HumorPress.com “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.

Mind the gap

Rachael KoenigAs a child, I felt extremely fortunate to be spared the pain and indignity of braces.

The indignity was perceived; growing up decades before the introduction of more discreet orthodontia inventions like Invisalign or lingual braces, my only associations were the railroad tracks cemented across the teeth of the poor souls I watched in the lunch room, forced to cut their apples and carrots into miniature pieces and denied such life-affirming foods as popcorn and pizza crust, for the love of God.

I heard horror stories of night braces and orthodontia headgear, specifically designed to drastically lower one’s chances of being recognized as a human person, rather than as a cyborg with hormonal acne. I watched friends slowly drag out their retainers before meals, creating strings of thickly webbed saliva that grew and thinned until they snapped and remained hanging from the device, swaying in the breeze precariously until wiped away.

There was no uncertainty about the pain of braces, however, which was made exceedingly evident to me through the tribulations of my younger sister.  Deemed orthodontia-ready by the age of 15, she was forced to endure years of what resembled tiny barbed wire fencing around the expanse of each tooth, and I wondered if it was painful to close her tiny lips over them, for fear of ripping right through the flesh. On several occasions, I had the misfortune of accompanying her to the orthodontist’s office to have her braces tightened, a fairly barbaric process that seemed to me not unlike the medieval method of thumbscrews, but on one’s gums. While I gratefully stayed behind in the waiting room, she disappeared behind the door of what was surely a dungeon torture chamber, which I ascertained from the sounds of metal scraping, gear grinding and anguished human screams that emanated from within. My sister, who typically practiced respect and deference to adults, could be heard issuing forth a steady stream of obscenities, threats and general terror toward her doctor, which included promises of making future appointments with him in hell. At the end of the visit, I couldn’t tell who was more upset, my sister or the orthodontist.

Although it was gratifying to evade this brief phase of oral shackling — which surely would have compounded all the other anguish and agony of my adolescence — I was disappointed to discover a by-product of growing in my teeth naturally. A fairly sizable gap between my two top incisors. As a child, the only bother it bore me was an interesting sucking noise that occurred while I drank from a cup, but as I grew older and began placing more importance on my physical appearance, I couldn’t help comparing my mirrored image to a beaver or the Easter Bunny. I would stare at my visage while chewing on a piece of Chiclet’s gum, eventually forcing it with my tongue in between the empty space in my teeth to create the illusion of the missing enamel and think about what might have been.

Ever conscious of my gap, I tried to remember to always keep my lips closed while having my picture taken. Still, there are several pieces of photographic evidence from various school yearbooks that document an unintentional toothy smile with my front teeth dipping below my lips like the tiniest of sawed-off vampire fangs. Not the Twilight kind, but the Nosferatu kind.

As a bespectacled teenager working alongside several (slightly) older men at a bookstore in the local mall, I was introduced to the fairly absurd concept of my gap being a badge of sexual prowess. “Gaps are sexy,” I was told. But, the revelation was delivered more in the way of “I’m telling you that because you are somewhat nerdy and I hope it brings you genuine comfort,” rather than “And, now I will ask for your phone number.”

Still the idea of my diastema — the technical word for a space between two teeth — being a help rather than a hindrance to my overall appearance grew on me.  After all, Chaucer wrote of “the gap-toothed wife of Bath” because of the connection of the physical characteristic with lustful tendencies, a popular premise at the time. Several African cultures associate gapped-tooth women with increased fertility, and cosmetic procedures to create a gap are common. And, in France, they are called “dents du bonheur” or “lucky teeth.” Perhaps it was finally time to “embrace my space.”

As an adult, I have more or less come to terms with my gap, though my thoughts on its allure vary depending on which gap-toothed celebrity I am told my mouth resembles. Madonna and Lauren Hutton, I’m fine with, but I was a bit more distraught at a recent comparison to Lawrence Fishburne.

Ironically, gapped teeth are currently having a moment. I can’t turn several pages of any fashion magazine without coming face-to-face with an advertisement featuring a close-up of a gap-toothed model, eyelids heavy and lips slightly parted so as not to miss the dark section of nothingness between her two front teeth. Regardless of the product being promoted — from eyeliner to dog food to lawn mowers — such a facial expression is necessary to bring prominent exposure to the gap, a clause no doubt written into her contract.

I am still routinely wooed by dentists who promise to “fix” me.

“You know it’s going to keep growing, don’t you?” one dentist intoned ominously at a recent appointment, “The space, I mean.”

“Really?” I wondered how big it could actually get before becoming a small window into the inner workings of my mastication process for the entire world to see.

“Don’t you change a thing, sweetie!” his dental hygienist clucked, “That space gives you character.”

Being told my gap gives me “character,” which is often used as a synonym for “unattractive,” routinely makes me question my lifelong commitment to accepting it as my fate.  Still, as I grow older and watch various parts of my face and body change and evolve, what remains the same (albeit imperceptibly larger, apparently) is that space between my teeth.  No doubt it will provide me with an amusing level of eccentric charm for years to come.

Not to mention a superior level of spitting abilities.

— Rachael Koenig

Rachael Koenig is a writer and humorist deriving most of her inspiration from her two sons, ages nine and five, and stepdaughter, 13. Her site Maxisms contains personal stories and a collection of precocious, snarky and hilarious conversations between herself and her children. Her work has recently appeared on scarymommy.com, rolereboot.org, whattheflicka.com and The New York Times parenting blog Motherlode. She thinks of herself as more of an essayist than a blogger, because she is old-fashioned and grumpy and out of touch with modern social media vernacular. Also, “blogger” still sounds like something one would pull out of a left nostril. She can be reached on Facebook.

Ear candling lights up my morning

Myron KuklaI came out the other morning for breakfast to find my wife, Madeline, with her head on the table and a burning candle sticking in her ear.

And, I’m not making this up, she had a disposable pie pan on her face to catch the wax dripping from the candle.

“Do you know you have a pie pan on your head with a burning candle poking through it attached to your ear?”  I asked.

“Of course I do. I’m candling my ear.”

I looked at her for a moment and then replied, “Well, I hope whatever it is you’re heating up doesn’t have anything to do with my breakfast this morning.”

She looked at me with one of those womanly expressions that let men know their offbeat sense of wit and humor isn’t appreciated. But, since she had a pie pan on her head and a burning candle in her ear, I ignored the look and continued on with a few more puns.

“You know, Honey, I’ve always said, you light up my life.”

“Hey, how about we have a candlelight breakfast this morning.”

“Ear wax. Not just for snacks any more.”

That produced an even sterner look from her.

“Hold still,” I said. I want to go get my cell phone so I can put it on YouTube.”

“Don’t you dare,” she cried.

Old folk remedy

“What I’m doing is a homeopathic therapy for my ear,” Madeline said while the cone-shaped candle sizzled and sputtered and sent clouds of black smoke towards our kitchen ceiling.

I asked for an explanation of what a person could cure with a burning candle sticking out of their ear.

“This is an old folk remedy that people used to help draw out black humors from the body, cure St. Vitas Dance and protect you from hexes and the evil eye,” she explained.

Actually, Madeline didn’t say that. I just thought that would be an appropriate explanation for making your head look like a birthday cake for a one-year-old.

What she really said was she had been having problems with her ears and the candling technique was an old remedy that might cure it. The technique supposedly brings soothing heat to the inner ear, eliminates wax build up and anything else that may have taken residence in your ear cannel.

“You should try it. It feels great,” she said. “Now, could you clip the ash off my candle so my hair doesn’t catch fire?”

I knocked the ash off and then picked up the box the candles came in and looked at the label.

Sure enough, it had a warning label:  “For external use only. Keep away from children. Do not use with flammable chemicals. Do not put lighted candle next to your hair as it might produce loud screaming and hair burning.”

Good advice, I thought.

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla is a Midwest freelance writer. He is the author of several books of humor, including Guide to Surviving Lifeand is a regular contributor to Bestversionmedia and the Erma Bombeck blog. Email him at myronkuklabooks@gmail.com or follow his blog, The Writings and Musings of Myron J. Kukla.

Bungle in the jungle

Hillary IbarraMy husband, Matthew, could not wait to go to work one morning. The caterwauling, shouts, and war whoops — typical tribal noises of his children — were too much for him. When asked what he wanted to take for breakfast, he replied curtly, “Just give me whatever, so I can get out the door.”

Another day I was the one who couldn’t hack it, couldn’t look the demands of the day in the face. By afternoon I had hurled a hamburger patty on the floor and demanded to know why I had to put up with so much drama. There was yelling, grabbing, crying, fights over blackberries. Blackberries! I eventually retrieved the hamburger, safe in its Ziploc bag, to prepare for my calm child, Ana.

You see, I’ll tell you a secret. God gives every large family that one child, the dependable, even-tempered one, to guard their parents’ sanity. Because he knows; oh, he knows.

As I was recounting my day to my husband that evening, detailing an argument-at-the-swimming-pool scene, the blackberries-and-hamburger incident, a hokey-pokey tragedy of immense proportion, a dog-tried-to-eat-hamster debacle, and a Danny-slap-Ella-in-the-face mockery, I began to giggle, hands pressed into my glasses, releasing the day’s stress with God’s natural remedy.

“It’s bad. It’s…just…sooo bad,” I gasped.

By golly, you have to have a sense of humor in this business or you won’t survive. You’ll crack, and be the one that flew over the cuckoo’s nest. I can’t count the number of times my husband has been in a serious stare-off with one of the kids, boring his displeasure into their craniums, and I’ve had to hide my face and snicker into my arm. Or the many, many times when the level of bad behavior in this house was so ludicrous, so incredibly high that a volcano of naughtiness could have erupted and flooded the neighborhood, and I’ve stood in the middle of my home in a fit of unbelieving laughter. Or that one time when knock-knock jokes started at the dinner table, and the kids all joined in, the go-to punch line of the evening being “apple-lapple-orange juice.” and I burst out in real fits when Matthew cried out at last, “No more knock-knock jokes!” Danny turned to him, sweet as pie, and said, “Papa? Ding-dong.”

My husband thinks the craziness is too much, gets fed up, has to take a break, retreat and plan new tactical maneuvers.

The poor man called one day at lunchtime as I was cleaning a stream of juice off my dining room wall. While I was talking and cleaning, Danny just happened to push his leg through the slats of a dining room chair. His siblings and I attempted to maneuver his leg down or back or any possible way to gently pull it free. With every failed attempt, Danny’s panic and wails of woe escalated, and my cajoling voice increased in pitch. I finally cried into the phone, “I’m going to have to call the Fire Department!”

My brain had momentarily died from an overload of steadily increasing aggravation. When it finally hyperventilated back to life, I grabbed Vaseline and had my son’s leg released in a moment. When I got back on the line, Matthew could barely speak to me; he was so disgusted by the mayhem. I cried, “What are you talking about? This is every day. This is life! That boy has got his elbow stuck in that chair at least a dozen times this week!”

I start singing at my kids when things get too bad, when I start seeing the cuckoo’s nest on the horizon. I sing my frustration, my disappointment, my conditions for peace, my orders to be obeyed right now. Most of my songs are operatic songs of acute lamentation, more tragic than any aria.

The kids know what it means when Mama sings. Not being a qualified opera singer, I don’t care about form or pitch, and it hurts the ears; they’ll do anything to make it stop. Even behave. Even do what I asked them to do 15 minutes ago.

Sometimes it’s so bad around here — so noisy, so theatrical, so tantrum and spat-invested — that I worry about the neighbors and their uninformed opinions. I wish I had a megaphone that I could wedge out a bathroom window to alert them to the situation:

“We’re alright…we’re allriiiight! Listen. Danny — the golden-haired angel — is pitching a ferocious fit in time-out. Howling should die down in about, oh, 20 minutes. I am not beating him, really, though I’m sorely tempted! There’s also a minor scuffle between the older kids. No serious bleeding yet, though! The one keening like an old witch is me, trying to keep them all from leaping off the furniture. But don’t worry! No need to call an ambulance, the police or fire department at this time. Uh…please stand by for further notifications, though. And thank you for your cooperation and your wonderful suspension of judgment!”

School will end soon, and I’ll hear from my kids’ teachers what I hear every year, applied like balm to my soul.  It goes something like this:

“Berto/Ana/Ella was such a joy to have in our classroom! He/she was so helpful and respectful. So well-behaved! I knew I never had to worry about him/her. Thank you for all you do to raise such wonderful kids!”

I’ll just nod, grin and say, “That’s so great to hear. You know, I just keep at them, the little…uh, angels. They’re like sugar on marshmallows, you know what I mean? But you can’t let them get away with a thing. Not a blasted thing, the…uh, sweeties. It’s a battle, a constant battle, but so darn rewarding, huh? Yes?”

And I’ll walk away with a skip in my weary step and a twinkle in my eye above the permanent dark circles, resting proudly in the knowledge that they behave beautifully for other people.

And I’ll pray that knowledge gets me through the summer.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. 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 fifty 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.

How to help children with Attention Deficit Disorder

(Lowell Christensen’s essay won first place in the annual Robert Benchley Society Humor Writing Competition. He placed third the previous year. Reposted by permission of the author.) 

 Lowell Christensen headshotOur son David has attention deficit disorder (ADD). We know this because his teacher Mrs. Franklin hinted at the possibility. She said he has trouble sitting still and staying focused, so she has to keep him in during recess to finish his assignments. She gave us a brochure about how we can help at home. It’s weird that no one had ADD when I went to school. I just made some really nice chocolate chip cookies. I’d like to share some ideas that can help with ADD. They taste better when you use real butter. I also use homemade vanilla. You can order vanilla beans online and then soak them in rum for a few months, and it makes rich, flavorful vanilla to add to cookies. Rum is made from sugar cane, which grows in the Caribbean. Remember when Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth are stranded on the island, and Elizabeth sets the rum on fire? That’s a great scene. My favorite subject in school was always recess. I kept telling that to Mrs. Franklin. I like to use milk chocolate chips in cookies instead of semisweet. It says we need to make a plan to help our son set aside a specific time to do his homework. We made a plan. I think it’s in the billiards room. My brother Vaughn is coming to visit tomorrow. He’s a computer scientist like me. I also like rum raisin ice cream, although recently I’ve been enjoying toffee. They make mint toffee in England, and it’s worth the plane fare over just to get some. There’s a little candy store on Bloomsbury Way near the British Museum where I get the stuff. It’s wonderful! I can’t find the plan. Maybe I left it in the Mercedes. My son finished his homework, and I’m supposed to make sure he gets it into his backpack so he can turn it in tomorrow if he remembers. The cat is making weird sounds. The teacher says we need to set up a reward system for when he remembers. According to the Journal of Wildlife Management, cats are the urban coyotes’ most common meal, making up 42 percent of their diet. So why do we have a Journal of Wildlife Management if we can’t manage wildlife sufficiently to prevent Puff from going poof like this? It says we should use memory cards, dice or dominoes to make numbers fun. I tried that, but David would rather show me some tricks using Fibonacci numbers or work on computer code. Kids need to take breaks every 10 or 20 minutes unless they’re too absorbed in writing code. The cats being eaten are in Tucson. If you’re a coyote living in the wilderness far away from Tucson (and chances are that you’re not), the law of supply and demand tells you that cat is a luxury you will seldom enjoy without paying a premium. I hope this helps. I need a break now.

— Lowell T. Christensen

Lowell T. Christensen is the author of The One-Minute Zillionaire — Achieve Wealth, Fame, and Success in an Instant, Give or Take a Hundred Years. He has kept himself busily occupied as a writer, engineer, rocket scientist, musician, backhoe operator, outdoorsman, chef, rancher and international traveler. His previous books include Coping with Texas and Other Staggering Feets and Beginning Farming and What Makes a Sheep Tick, and he has written magazine articles that feature presidential elections through the theme of Shakespearean plays. He also writes articles for his local newspaper about public education, cheesy television shows, Scout camp misadventures and the county library’s resemblance to a dead rhinoceros. With a degree in chemical engineering, he has worked for DuPont and the University of California.

Interview tips for the rest of us

marie_millardI had my first real interview the other day. I’d read the tips — dress well, research the company, have questions — but here are some extra tips I came up with after my interview.

1. Pretend you’re not crazy.

My interview took place on the third floor. When I walked in, I immediately looked for the stairs because I have this “fear of entrapment” thing. (Different than claustrophobia, I learned from my friend Lance when I told him about the time I tried to pry open some elevator doors with my fingernails after being “stuck” for about 12 seconds.) The place I had my interview wasn’t a large building, so I was perplexed when I couldn’t find the staircase. I decided to ask one of the ground floor people.

Me: Hi, where are the stairs?

Lady: Hmmm, I don’t know. Joe, do you know where the stairs are?

Joe: No.

Me (Incredulous): What are you guys going to do in an earthquake?

Joe: I never go on the other floors.

Lady to a man behind me: Aaron, do you know where the stairs are?

Aaron: No.

Me: Hey, are you the Aaron I’m meeting at eleven?

Aaron (Looking scared of the crazy person who was asking everyone what they would do in an earthquake): Yes.

I should have just sucked it up and taken the elevator in the first place. Which leads me to my second tip.

2. Your interview starts the second you enter the building.

That was one awkward elevator ride with Aaron. I should have had my game face on the moment I entered the building. Plus, I didn’t get to do my Wonder Woman pose in the stairwell. (See the TED Talk on this subject.)

3. Pretend you like yourself.

Aaron and Abby interviewed me. At least let’s pretend those are their names. And let’s pretend they worked for a local radio station.

Aaron: And your creative writing skills?

Me: I think they’re good.

Abby (Trying to help me out): Your resume says you’ve won two writing contests?

Me: Oh. Yeah.

Really. I said, “Oh. Yeah.” And then nothing else. Did I even want this job? Also, when they asked what I knew about their station I said, “Not much.” NOT MUCH?! I had read every word on their website, and I know more about stations in general than 99 percent of the population. Do I hate myself?! Well, yes, but this was the day to pretend otherwise!

4. Pretend you like other people.

“What’s your biggest pet peeve about other people?” They asked.

“PEOPLE WHO SOUND 100 PERCENT SURE ABOUT SOMETHING, AND THEN YOU FIND OUT THEY WERE WRONG! WHY CAN’T THEY JUST SAY “I’M NOT SURE BUT I THINK…”

Great time to come alive. After all my short, hesitant answers, this is what I sound passionate about? I could have at least told them that it’s only third on my pet peeve list, after gory commercials during family friendly TV shows, and leaf blowers.

On the way out, I found the stairs. I took them down and came out an ugly little door not in the lobby, but outside. I tried to open it again, out of curiosity. It was locked. Only for emergencies, I guess.

I didn’t get the job. My only hope now is that this story can benefit others. Hide your phobias, pretend to like yourself and others, and be ready to meet your interviewer on the first floor. I’m not going to lie. It was kind of my dream job. But at least I won’t have to take an elevator every day.

— Marie Millard

Marie Millard is the author of the young adult novella Anaheim Tales. She belongs to Redwood Writers, the largest branch of the California Writers Club, and she blogs at wereyoualwaysthisfunny.wordpress.com.

A glass act

Jerry ZezimaI do windows. Unfortunately, I do them every couple of years, which gives the windows plenty of time to get dirty, and even then it is clear that I don’t do them very well because I have always considered the job a pane in the glass.

This year, I let a professional end my losing streak, which was, of course, in each window.

Enter (through the front door, not a window) David Wright, owner of Mr. Wright’s Window Cleaning of Centerport, N.Y.

Not to be confused with the New York Mets slugger of the same name (“He  doesn’t do windows as well as I do, but I can’t hit a baseball as well as he can”), Wright was a lawyer, a financial analyst and a monk before devoting his life to letting the sunshine into the lives of others by cleaning their windows.

“I want to make people happy,” Wright said. “And a lot of people are happy when their windows are clean.”

I knew I would be happy if my windows were clean because it also would give happiness to my wife, Sue, who had been after me for the past two years to use Windex and a roll of paper towels, not to mention a little elbow grease, to clean the windows.

“Elbow grease is a prime source of smudges and streaks,” I told her.

Sue wasn’t buying it, which is why I ended up buying a reasonably priced cleaning package (10 windows for $49) so she could finally meet Mr. Wright.

“I’m David,” he said, introducing himself to Sue. “I’m here to clean your windows.”

Sue swooned. “Thank you,” she replied. “They could use it.”

Wright started on the outside, where he told me that his wife, Joanne, likes the way he does the windows at their house but wishes he would do them more often.

“I’m working seven days a week,” he said, adding that he started the business last year and will be joined next year by his son Collier, a U.S. Army Ranger who is serving in Iraq. “So I don’t have the time to do our windows too often.”

“That excuse isn’t going to work for me,” I said.

“You’ll have to think of another one,” Wright said as he used a water-fed pole with a nylon brush to clean the outside of the windows in the living, dining and family rooms.

“Nylon?” I said. “Theoretically, I could clean windows with my wife’s stockings.”

“Theoretically,” Wright responded, “it wouldn’t be a good idea.”

What would be a good idea, he added, is to use resin instead of soap. “I’m using it now,” he said. “It’s much more effective.”

As he worked, Wright, who is 53, told me that he started out as a lawyer (“If you go to the bathroom, bring work with you so you can bill your clients”), then got into financial services before giving up all his material possessions and spending time in a monastery, where he decided he wanted to make people happy for a living.

“I am doing my second-favorite thing,” he said, referring to cleaning windows, which allows him to meditate while he works.

“What’s your favorite thing?” I inquired.

“I’d like to be a professional poker player,” Wright said. “But my wife doesn’t think it’s a safe bet.”

When we moved inside, Wright said that customers always kid him about having the same name as the Mets star. “They’ll say, ‘When you finish with my windows, are you going to Citi Field?’ Maybe I should give them my autograph,” said Wright, who cleaned the windows with a long razor blade encased in a scraper. He also used a squeegee and a scrubber made of lamb’s wool and AstroTurf.

“And I use Dawn,” he said.

“Who’s she?” I asked.

“The person you can get to clean your windows,” said Wright, though he really meant the dishwashing liquid. “Don’t tell your wife, but most windows are dirtier on the inside than they are on the outside.”

I didn’t tell Sue, who was nonetheless amazed when Wright was finished.

“Wow!” she squealed. “These windows have never been so clean.”

“The trick,” Wright said, “is to keep them that way.”

“I’ll do my part,” I said. “In two years, I’ll give you another call.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won five humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Ask a mime

Con ChapmanRecently, a sort of cultural arms’ race has broken out between the two grocery stores that are equidistant from our house.

To the west, a formerly sleepy supermarket underwent a total makeover that included an expanded liquor department. As every schoolboy knows, in order to celebrate an upgrade from Bud Light in suitcase packages to snooty microbrews and wine prices that start at $12 a bottle, it is essential that one hire a harpist.

I’m not talking about a blues harpist, like Little Walter Jacobs. I mean a classical harpist like — well, actually, I can’t name one.

With the delicate pluckings of a classical harpist in the background, it is possible to charge a $3 per bottle premium over prices your customers could find a mile or so down the road, at the liquor store where they display the stuff in the original cardboard boxes. It’s so much more civilized with Pachelbel’s Canon playing while you shop.

At the other end of town, the natural food store decided to add a mime to — well, to add whatever touch of high culture it is that having a mime around supplies. An element of whimsy? A note of Francophilia? A sense of life’s absurdity? I can honestly say that, after extensive consideration of the question, I just don’t know.

The natural food store is noteworthy for its counter-intuitive hyper-restrictive policy on accepting recyclable bottles and cans. You would think that a natural food store would be at the forefront — nay the barricades — of the battle to save the earth by paying customers a nickel to turn in their soft drink containers.

You would be wrong. From the automated machines outside that say “Non-participating container” when you try to feed them a raspberry-seltzer bottle you bought inside the store, to the manual redemption option inside, which requires interaction with a human being who would rather be writing the Great American Novel or at least a chapbook of sestinas, the place appears to take the position that recycling is a plot masterminded by a vast, right-wing conspiracy, which they are resisting on moral grounds. Like Lillian Hellman refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Which brings me to the mime.  He was standing there, going through his routines — trapped in a box, fighting a gale-force hurricane, etc. — as I rounded the corner looking for the granola.  There was no one else around to help me. I don’t shop there that often, but my wife insisted that I get Sunday night dinner there, instead of at the pathetically unenlightened, nitrate/nitrite-laden place where I like to shop, because of the lack of harpists and mimes in their aisles.

So I asked the guy, “Can you tell me where the granola is?” He gave me that startled fawn look that mimes adopt when they hear an imaginary sound.

“Cereal?” I asked, going for the generic term if I couldn’t get through to him with the specific.

If it had been me beneath that whiteface, I would have just said “Aisle 3.″ But would that have been as aesthetically pleasing as pretending to eat imaginary cereal from an imaginary bowl? You’re right — not as good.

Anyway, I suffered through the whole routine, including imaginary milk and imaginary spoon. Bottom line, after he was done, he pointed to his left and held up three fingers. Thanks, you dingbat.

And so, if you want to end your weekend on a low note, I have a suggestion.  Go shopping at some place that’s trying to position itself as the shopping option of choice for upscale folks who prefer their chicken free-range, and their coffee free-trade.

And ask a mime.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

 

Reflections of Erma