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Picking a woman who’s right on the money

Barreca,-Gina(This piece first appeared in the Hartford Courant on June 24, 2015. Reposted by permission of author Gina Barreca.)

 America’s been discussing women’s influence on our nation’s history, destiny and character. And we managed to talk about women’s contributions for almost, oh, an entire quarter of an hour until the conversation veered back to men.

Makes you proud, doesn’t it?

The topic under discussion was, “Which women, from U.S. history, might appear on a piece of paper currency?” (Just one piece of paper currency, mind you, one single denomination.) Many men, however, became so distraught at hearing nothing about their accomplishments — for up to three minutes at a stretch — they tried to shut the whole thing down.

Men swiftly reclaimed the conversation with a fierce debate over the merits of the two men on the $20 bill and the $10 bill, respectively.

Not that there aren’t several good reasons for suggesting that Andrew “Trail of Tears” Jackson be ousted from the $20 instead of Alexander “Federalist Papers” Hamilton from the $10 — I’m all for it. But what I noticed is that we’ve shoved the women out of the way so that Jackson and Hamilton can have center stage. The women of American history are now sitting in lawn chairs, drinking cold coffee and wondering whether their time for recognition will come.

But for a while there, we were having a fun, active, interesting conversation about which women might appear on paper money. We know it didn’t work out with the coins. Some of us still have the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea coins sequestered somewhere in a separate compartment, probably in a plastic bag tucked into a drawer, because we’re afraid we’ll mistakenly circulate them as quarters.

Sure, they gave women coins, but they made the coins look as if they were worth one-fourth of their value. Are you shocked?

Yet it seemed as if the country, or the part of it that can make conversation, was having a lively and enthusiastic discussion about putting one woman on one piece of paper money — while still allowing the original owner to keep some real estate on the bill (Hamilton’s image will still be there somewhere). Even Jack Lew, U.S. Treasury secretary, cheered the idea and said merely that the woman had to be representative of American democracy and, by law, no longer living.

You’d think, given those parameters, there’d be a lot of names. You would think that a joyful noise would be made unto the government and that names of women who lived and died for the red, white and blue would be enough to keep us talking until 2020, when the new bill is due to be issued.

Not so much.

Perhaps it’s an unconscious fear of putting women into circulation or the uneasiness some men might feel putting Eleanor Roosevelt directly into their pants pocket.

Or maybe it’s the worry that once women start getting our faces on the money, we’ll want our full share of it, too.

I propose something entirely different: I believe that we should reinvigorate the term “funny money” and endow it with a literal meaning.

You want to represent democracy and embody a trait that’s fiercely defining of the American character? It’s got to be our sense of humor. Mark Twain argued that humor is “the natural friend of human rights and human liberties.”

I want currency with Mae West, Moms Mabley, Totie Fields, Gracie Allen, Dorothy Parker and Erma Bombeck on the bills.

Take Grover Cleveland off the $1,000 and put Gracie Allen on the grand.

Sophie Tucker deserves her own green because she told the truth about money: “From birth to age 18, a girl needs good parents. From 18 to 35, she needs good looks. From 35 to 55, she needs a good personality. From 55 on, she needs good cash.” Put Sophie on the sawbuck.

While not one of these women was among the Founding Fathers (I researched it), all of these women could be called impulsive. As defined by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf in their new book Spinglish, the word “impulsive” is “a handy adjective for disparaging a female colleague who, if she were a man, would be applauded for her ability to make quick decisions.”

Sounds like the definition of an American leader to me.

— Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She regularly writes columns for the Hartford Courant, The Huffington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Psychology Today. In 2012, she served as a keynoter at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and returned to be part of the faculty in 2014. Learn more about Gina here.

Bathroom brawl almost broke my family

Charles HartleyThere are six kids in my family, and I am the youngest. For several years we all lived in the same house. During those years the unspoken and sensible rule was that the six of us were supposed to share two bathrooms located upstairs only a few feet away from each other.

The rule was broken one day when my oldest brother, who was then 16, declared that one of the bathrooms was “his” and that the rest of us had to share the other one.

Yes, he made up a rule that no one was allowed to use his bathroom. Presumably, this meant until he was 18 and went off to college at which point he wouldn’t care anymore who used either bathroom.

He was serious. Two years seemed like a long time at the time.

To the rest of us kids, this, on its face, seemed unfair. Why should five people use one bathroom and one get one to himself? He was the oldest, but that didn’t seem a strong enough reason. Beyond the fairness issue, his declaration struck all of us the same way: slightly if not completely selfish, and slightly if not completely presumptuous, and slightly if not completely combustible enough to tear at the fabric of our family.

It seemed to us as if he was breaking ranks with our unspoken but well understood family code that everyone should be treated fairly and that we all shared in household things equally.

For a while as we digested his new rule, we allowed it to go on. This occurred, I think, because we were reeling that he made such a bold and questionable intra-family maneuver. We didn’t know how to react. The move had to be absorbed and chewed on first.

“OK, well, maybe because he is the oldest, and he does deserve his own bathroom,” we seemed to say to ourselves. At least I did being nine years younger than him.

This was new territory for me, a family shockwave that took me awhile to process. My older siblings, however, had more life experiences. They were able to sense in the deepest crevices of their beings that our older brother had crossed a family red line. He had intentionally garbled the family code.

While he continued shaving, brushing his teeth and showering in his own bathroom for a few weeks, you could sense rumblings of rebellion building in the house among the second- and third-oldest brothers, and oldest- and second-oldest sisters.

Day after day we were having to wait in line to take showers in our one bathroom — “our” bathroom as opposed to “his” bathroom. It was becoming a daily nuisance especially as we saw our oldest brother prance in and out of his any time he pleased.

Plus our bathroom was getting dirtier and more disheveled. What’s more, it wasn’t the prettier bathroom. It had a dark green carpet; his was lively pink. In his bathroom it was easier to be put in a happier mood by the brighter color and the less trampled rug and mushier towels.

My oldest sister, known to have the strongest opinions and principles in all family matters, started calling my oldest brother out more often, seemingly daily, that his decision was wrong on its face.

I seem to recall she raised this point a few times while our whole family ate dinner. And you know who is always at a family dinner: Mom and Dad.

Until this, I don’t think Mom and Dad had been made aware of their oldest son’s dubious behavior. He had been sly, announcing his bathroom to us when Mom and Dad were not around. He may have calculated that they would never find out because he was older and wiser and maybe his younger siblings would buy into his decision. It’s also possible he believed that if Mom and Dad asked him about it, they would agree that because he was the oldest he deserved his own bathroom.

I don’t recall Mom and Dad getting involved in resolving this family spat. But I do remember that the more my oldest sister pointed out the inequity and inhumaneness, the pressure on my brother mounted even though he would not show he was feeling it.

“This is my bathroom,” he would say.

In other words, get out of his bathroom.

Even as a naïve and uneducated seven-year-old, this didn’t sound right to me. And I had not yet experienced much of interpersonal relationships and  self-centeredness. How could it be “his” bathroom, I remember thinking, when he did not own the house? Mom and Dad did. How could it be “his” bathroom just because he told us it was? If he could do that, I could declare the other bathroom “mine” and tell the others to go to the downstairs bathroom. Just declaring something seemed a powerful tool to wield. But how could he think it right and just to have five people lowering the quality of their lives as the quality of his life soared? Why does he get the better life than us?

By then, my second- and third-oldest brothers had become taller than my oldest. So physical intimidation to change his policy may have been a factor in the reversal of this proclamation. But the biggest reason we stopped this madness were the annoyingly well-articulated, prickly, and sometimes unsettling complaints by my oldest sister. She did not see any way around the fact that this bathroom rule was not right. And when she decided something was not right, she was going to let you hear about it and the chances of her changing her mind were zero.

While my oldest brother never relented in claiming “his” bathroom, the rest of us just starting using his bathroom without asking his permission. There were never any arguments or fisticuffs. It just became the rule of the other five kids that we were not going to let Big Brother push us around.

Even as the youngest I remember going in that bathroom when I felt like it and not worrying about my oldest brother ripping on me to get out. I had four other siblings, a Band of Brothers and Sisters, who had my back. Our family feud dissipated.

My oldest brother went to college two years later. Going to college resolves many family issues. And my oldest sister continued to call anybody out in our family who she believed was being unprincipled.

The bathroom situation was a bonding experience for our family, and a blow to my oldest brother. We are all better for it.

To all of them, I declare that this essay is “mine.”

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

College daze

Jerry ZezimaAs soon as my lawyer gets out of jail, I am going to file a classless action lawsuit against the makers of “National Lampoon’s Animal House” for theft of intellectual property.

I came up with the idea recently while drinking a beer at my 40th college reunion, where my classmates (who also, like my lawyer, were admitted to the bar) agreed that the 1978 campus comedy was heavily influenced by our shenanigans.

While we got an excellent education at Saint Michael’s College, which is in Colchester, Vermont, and is annually rated as one of the top small colleges in America, the Class of 1975 stands out as the most notorious in the 111-year history of the school.

That its graduates, like those in “Animal House,” have gone on to enjoy distinguished careers in business, education, law, politics, medicine, aviation and even journalism only bolsters my case.

The plaintiffs, whose last names are not being used to protect the guilty, include Hank, my roommate for three years; Clay, my roommate for one year; Tim, the brazen ringleader who lived next door; and yours truly, who was only, I will testify under oath in the event we are countersued, along for the ride.

Accompanying us to the reunion were Hank’s wife, Angela; Clay’s wife, Lorraine; Tim’s wife, Jane; and my wife, Sue, who also is a member of the Class of ’75 but is innocent of all charges, unless you count being guilty by association.

The first thing Tim and I did, with help from Clay, was turn the Class of 1975 banner upside down on a fence in back of the school. It hung proudly, if slightly crumpled, next to the crisp, right-side-up banners of the other classes at the reunion barbecue. Then the three of us, along with several of our classmates, posed for pictures behind it.

Tim, co-chair of the ’75 reunion committee, later reported that Jack Neuhauser, who has been president of the college since 2007 but knows all about us, heard what we had done.

“He just shook his head, like he expected it,” Tim said.

“He can’t revoke our diplomas,” I noted, adding that we graduated magna cum lager, “or we’d have to come back.”

“And repeat all the stuff we did,” said Tim.

That stuff included starting a snowball fight that erupted into a campus-wide riot; putting snakes in other students’ rooms; engaging in firecracker wars; throwing a burning bonsai tree out of a window and accidentally igniting the ivy on the side of the building, which forced our resident adviser, Flash, to run across the quad, beer in hand, to extinguish the blaze; locking a pep squad in a dormitory basement so it couldn’t march at a pep rally; putting kegs of beer in a dumbwaiter and sending them up and down between floors so campus authorities couldn’t find them; streaking in front of the girls’ dorm (I did, modestly, wear a bow tie); creating an international incident on a trip to Montreal; and committing innumerable other acts of mayhem, craziness and blatant stupidity that are safe to mention now because, let’s hope, the statute of limitations has expired.

“The drinking age was 18,” Tim reasoned. “What did they expect?”

They expected us to behave ourselves at the reunion, which we did. Mostly.

At the awards breakfast (somehow, none of us won anything), I issued a blanket apology for the Class of 1975 to the now-retired Don “Pappy” Sutton, who was dean of students during our four-year reign of error, when Playboy ranked St. Mike’s as one of the nation’s top party schools.

Dean Sutton, who is 87 and looks fabulous (he’s had 40 years to recover), thanked me and said, “God bless you.”

We had a great time, both in college and at the reunion, and are proud to be associated with such a fine institution of higher learning.

I can’t help but think, however, that like the rowdy crew in “Animal House,” we are still on double secret probation.

— 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.

Alcohol conditioning

Hillary IbarraOn the last evening of my visit to the UK in April, my brother Nate and his wife Natalie gave me gifts to bear home to my children.

Then Nate came into the dining room, hiding something behind his back. It was a gift for me, a tribute to my writing he explained.

Unfortunately, my brother’s speech was interrupted by the pizza delivery guy, so Natalie took the gift, tucking it into her cardigan until Nate returned. Resuming, he mentioned how a post I wrote a couple years ago made him and Natalie laugh out loud, and then he placed a bottle of Dom Pérignon, Vintage 2004 in my hands. I was stunned.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would actually get the chance to drink the Champagne of Champagnes, certainly not before the kids graduated college. As promised, my husband and I relished it while toasting our 14th wedding anniversary this month. We even bought our first Champagne flutes to go with it, for such a bubbly demanded the proper stemware. A gal who gets balloon head after half a glass of wine, I can now say that I know what a really expensive hangover feels like. It was so worth it.

As for that humble post that earned me a bottle of Dom Pérignon from my extraordinarily generous brother and his lovely wife? This is it:

I am not a connoisseur of alcohol. As a young woman I did not sip brightly hued mixed drinks with my cool, fashion-conscious girlfriends. (Once I did sneak some of my dad’s scotch to mix with orange soda in order to cure a cold. The only thing it cured me of was drinking scotch and orange soda ever again. It was something like putting cotton candy in your martini, I imagine.)

I thought I knew something about wine, but I proved my ignorance in a servers’ meeting post-hours at a nice cafe where I worked. The owners were trying to teach us about red and white wines. When the question-and-answer session broke out, I spoke up and said, “Whites are all sweet and reds are dry.” My boss made an example of me, the poster child of blatant alcohol ignorance.

I was even more clueless about other liquor. Nine months pregnant with my first child and balancing a menu on my belly, I sat in a steak house with my Man and spied a tea I wanted to try.

“I’ll take a Long Island iced tea,” I confidently told our waiter.

The waiter stared, pen suspended, and my husband almost startled me into labor.

“Whoooaa! She doesn’t know what she’s saying,” he assured the wary server. “Just regular sweetened tea for her.”

Then he leaned over and whispered, “Honey, that has alcohol.”

“Oh,” I said. “I just thought it was like Texas tea.”

“That has alcohol, too…LOTS of alcohol.”

“Oh. Glad I didn’t order that then.”

Many years later I would discover per a friend’s suggestion that I liked a Zebra or Preacher’s collar. So when I found myself in an Olive Garden with several friends, and there was a long wait that prompted someone to suggest we get something at the bar, I knew just what I wanted.

I sauntered up to counter, leaned in and with a smile told the young man there that I’d take a Zebra.

The clever guy knew just what I meant, but he held up a bottle of wine and said, “Ma’am, we only serve wine here. We’re an Italian restaurant.”

My friends broke out in merry laughter, and I’m good for that. But I really could have gone for that beer.

The one I will never live down, though, the one that will haunt me every December 31, happened only a few years ago.

I love Champagne. Love, love, love, love, love. I don’t need to know much about it, because my love is unconditional. Still, I did read a column in the paper that listed several great sparkling wines to enjoy for New Year’s Eve, so when my husband casually asked me what kind I wanted him to pick up for the big celebration, I spoke up excitedly, “I’ve heard Dom Pérignon is good!”

“Dom Pérignon? That’s a hundred-something bucks!”

“It is?”

My husband burst out laughing.

“You could get me some, you know,” I retorted. “Maybe it’s worth it.”

“No I couldn’t. Dom Pérignon!” And then he laughed some more.

Now every time there’s a special occasion, and my Man has to make a sparkling wine run, he smiles and teases in a high, snobby voice, “Do you want me to pick you up some Dom Pérignon?”

Yeah, alright, alright. Put a cork in it. Because one of these days, one of these Valentine’s days, I’m going to swing by the drugstore…or the French Embassy…on my way home. Then when my Man walks in the door, I’ll be sitting in a sweet little red dress with a nice little bottle of wine. I’ll extend a glass to him and say smoothly:

“Care for some Dom Pérignon, Darling?”

Like Marilyn Monroe, I might even bathe in it — or at least wash my hair in it — because life should be sweet…or dry…and expensive, even for a dork like me.

— Hillary Ibarra

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

Carpe Diem!
They’ll never notice the pillow cases

Kelly GriffithsI wore a white sundress with yellow daisies and half a head of braided cornrows because they charged per braid. We were married on a cruise ship, docked in the port of Saint Thomas. In the sea glass morning hours before we got married, we snorkeled. Getting married? The best snorkeling ever? We can do it all. Carpe diem.

One of our ports of call had Sea-Doos available for hourly rent, and there was just enough time to ride one before the ship left. The cliché is that time flies when you’re having fun, but it grows thrusters when you’re riding Sea-Doos in the Caribbean. May I remind you that the ship waits for no one?

Panic. Us on the sidewalk, as little puddles of sea water gathered around our bare feet, all testifying to our romp on the waves. Taxi after taxi went by without stopping, the drivers shaking their heads at the two messes who would not be wrecking their cabs. Exquisite panic.

Finally, a taxi stopped, and we were directed onto the tarp in the way back seat. Smart guy. A fare’s a fare. Except, we weren’t. We had spent our cash on the Sea-Doos, and realized too late the cabbie didn’t take credit. More panic. Furtive whispering. Also the realization that Bob had left his shoes in the phone booth. With no shoes and no cash, we hurtled toward the moment we’d have to deal with the fallout from our stupidity youthful spontaneity.

But no! Thanks to the kindness of strangers we escaped the retribution for our little carpe diem. They paid our fare, and we paid them back once on board. Whew! Dodged that bullet.

The last night of any cruise is different. All luggage, except toiletries and the next day’s outfit, is placed outside the room by midnight. While we sleep, our goods get sniffed and searched by the customs department. Then after disembarkation and a customs turn of our own, we are reunited with our luggage. It’s a process that works swimmingly.

So long as one doesn’t pack one’s jeans in the luggage.

If one were to pack his jeans in the luggage, that would be very unlucky, as the ship’s stores cannot be opened while the ship is at port. The luggage is long gone into America, and one is left with whatever is in the cabin.

If one were to walk through customs wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes on his lower half, shod in his only pair of shoes, black dress loafers and white tube socks, it would be a long walk, indeed.

Critical fact #1: We shared a waist size in those early days of our marriage.

Critical fact #2: Ship cabins have everything one needs to survive the walk through customs.

Critical fact #3: We are a resourceful couple.

Picture this: Half my hair in cornrows, with a sunburn on my face and a sleep deprivation hangover, with dainty sneakers on my feet, I sauntered off our cruise ship and through customs — wearing our pillow cases tied around my waist. Like a skirt. Like, I meant to do that. Bob wore my jeans.

That was how we walked into America as husband and wife. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Or seize whatever’s available. And if you walk with a swagger, no one will notice the pillow cases.

— Kelly Griffiths

Kelly Griffiths, soccer, swimming and homeschool mom, lives in her van all over Northeast Ohio. Kelly is recently returned from a 20-year writing hiatus, taken so she wouldn’t kill her flow-interrupting children. Kelly’s pure thoughts can be found here. Her skeletons, here.

A canary in the coal mine of fashion

Con ChapmanI have an unerring eye for fashion, if I do say so myself. Which I just did.

If you want to know what’s “happening” in men’s fashion, look at me.

Then wear something else.

I’m like the canaries that coal miners take down into mine shafts to detect poisonous gases. The little birds have such sensitive lungs that when they keel over, the humans know they’ll be in trouble soon.

So when you see me wearing, for example, pleated pants, you need to run, not walk, to the nearest clothing store to buy a pair of plain fronts.

Whither I goest, fashion doth not follow. To put it as Webster’s Dictionary might, fashion is what I’m not wearing. If you see me wearing epaulets — don’t.

I mention this because of an article I stumbled across in The Wall Street Journal to the effect that fashionable men have started to wear their pants high off their ankles, a la Pee-wee Herman. The style has come to be known as “floods.” In order to secure my rightful place in the history of fashion, allow me to describe my role in this tectonic shift in haberdashery’s foundations.

For many years I resisted the so-called “European” hemline for pants, which uses excess fabric to form a slight drape over the shoe. I took grief for this from family members, both biological and marital. I didn’t care. With all the fabric I saved manufacturers, you could have clothed an Eskimo village.

From my point of view, the extra-long pant leg revealed not fashion, but insecurity. The style seemed to be most pronounced among used-car salesmen, maitre’d’s of overpriced restaurants and real estate developers looking to make a fortune using other people’s money.

The “high-water” look, by contrast, was a mark of the old-line Yankees of New England who wore their pants that way on the off chance that they’d see a snowy egret on their way into work, and would be prepared to get off the train and traipse into a marsh to get a better view of it. These men didn’t care about fashion because they didn’t need to impress anybody.

The turning point for me came when I was in an inner-city McDonald’s buying hamburgers for students at a school where I volunteered, and overheard a stage-whispered conversation by three girls that, I came to understand, was intended for my ears.

“Is it raining outside?” one asked.

“Is there a flood coming?” another said.

“Maybe a levee broke somewhere,” the third said.

I looked at them, noticed them giggling, then looked down at my pants. They were a little high.

It is one thing to endure criticism from your wife or your older sister — you know they’ve got it in for you. But when unknown teenage girls start to laugh at you, it is time for a serious reappraisal of the fashion choices you have made.

I decided, after a long, dark night of soul-searching, that perhaps I’d been wrong. Maybe longer pant legs weren’t so bad. Who was I to buck a fashion trend that had been adopted by millions of men at the behest of sophisticated European designers? “Get down off your high horse,” I said to myself, and “Who died and left you boss?” Also “Get with the program.”

I slowly began to replace my high-water pants with the longer-legged style, and eventually joined the community of right-thinking men who realize that it’s just plain wrong to show your ankles in public.

Unless, of course, you want to be fashionable.

— 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.

Running hot and cold

Jerry ZezimaAs a guy who is usually in hot water, which I am using as an excuse for all my wrinkles, I recently found myself in the unusual situation of being in hot water because there was no hot water.

Actually, there was hot water, but it left me cold because it was dripping out of the faucet in an upstairs bathroom. To prevent the American equivalent of Chinese water torture from keeping me awake at night and driving me even crazier than I already am, I had to open the vanity door and stick my empty head under the sink, an area so small that a Chihuahua would have felt claustrophobic, so I could turn off the hot water.

When I wanted to shave, I had to reverse the process. Then I reversed it again so the water bill wouldn’t rival the gross national product of Finland.

This went on for months. Finally, at the strong suggestion of my wife, Sue, who doesn’t even shave, I was faced with two choices: fix the problem or grow a beard.

Because I didn’t want to look like Presidents Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield, both of whom were shot to death, I decided to go with Choice No. 1.

This entailed disassembling the faucet so I could change the washer. Inasmuch as I am the least handy man in America, visions of Niagara Falls flooded my brain, which has water on it anyway.

I sought the wise counsel of Frank and Jerry, two ace maintenance guys at work.

“Make sure,” Frank advised, “that you turn off the water or you’ll have an indoor swimming pool.”

“Maybe,” Jerry added, “you should wear a bathing suit.”

“How do I get the cap off the hot-water spigot?” I asked.

“Use a screwdriver,” Frank answered.

“You mean vodka and orange juice?” I wondered.

“Whatever works,” Jerry said.

I also talked with Gary, a talented colleague who used to write a home-improvement column. He printed out instructions with an illustration of the sink’s parts, including the handle seat, the gasket and, of course, the washer. The whole thing looked like the battle plans for the invasion of Normandy.

“There’s a tool for taking the faucet apart,” Gary said.

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s called a jackhammer. All I want to do is change the washer. Do I have to buy a new house?”

“Go on YouTube,” Gary said, “and watch a video. It will show you how to do it.”

So I did. The two-minute video, “How to Replace a Washer in a Leaky Faucet for Dummies,” will never win an Oscar, but it was clearly aimed at me. And it was pretty instructive.

I used my smartphone, which has a dumb owner, to take a picture of the faucet. Then I went to Home Depot for further assistance.

I got it from Charlie, who is so knowledgeable that he coaches new recruits at the store. He assured me that I am not as incompetent as I think I am.

“My uncle was worse,” Charlie said. “He was a brilliant lawyer who became a judge, but he couldn’t change a light bulb. He eventually went blind, which didn’t help.”

Charlie informed me that my faucet doesn’t have washers.

“You have to remove the nut,” he said.

“That would be me,” I countered.

“And,” Charlie continued, “replace the cartridge.”

“Do I have to use dynamite?” I asked.

“No,” Charlie said. “A wrench will do. But turn off the water first.”

“Even I know that,” I said.

I bought a replacement cartridge, went home, turned off the water under the bathroom sink and, much to my amazement (and Sue’s), fixed the problem.

“Nice job,” Sue said. “And we didn’t even have to call a plumber.”

Unfortunately, now something’s wrong with the kitchen faucet. Looks like I’m in hot water again.

— 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.

Sleepovers and labor pains

Anne BardsleyIf you are a parent, there will come a time in your life when your daughter will sweetly ask, “Can I have a sleepover?” I’m using your daughter for this example because 89 percent of all sleepovers are with girls. I know it’s true. I Googled it.

Your first thought may be pure delight. Your child has friends and she wants them to stay overnight at your house. (Does that mean you are the cool mom?) You might even shed a tear. Well, wipe that tear away right now and batten down the hatches! As a mom who survived five kids and hundreds of sleepovers, I am here to offer some expert advice.

Forget about buying healthy food. You can spend $80 on granola mix, fruit, veggie dips, low-fat potato chips and no-salt pretzels, etc. These girls only want pizza, real chips, ice cream, gummy bears, licorice and extra-butter popcorn. Mental note for your sanity: Never buy graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate. They will attempt to build a campfire in your yard at 3 a.m. to make S’mores. If you must, buy marshmallows in a jar and let them microwave a snack. The fire marshall will thank you.

The most important thing is to keep the number of kids to an even number. I don’t care if it’s two, four, six or eight. And truthfully, if it’s six or eight, you probably should be in a mental ward. If you have an odd number, there is an unwritten rule that at 2 a.m. someone will feel left out and have hurt feelings. That child will cry loudly, very loudly, until you call her parents to take her home.

It’s always the dad who fetches the sobbing night owl. By the time he arrives at the door, the girls will be lining up like soldiers to hug, squeeze and tell Suzy they love her. For the past hour they bickered, but now in the darkness there is a Kumbaya moment. At this point, there will be an hour discussion about whether Suzy really wants to leave. It’s all very dramatic. “Please don’t go! We’ll miss you!” Sometimes the other girls even cry saying it. The mood will shift and Suzy will decide to stay. You and Suzy’s dad will bond while you apologize that you had to wake him to drive 20 minutes for nothing.

There should be parent’s code where we swear never to tell a soul how either parent looks at “the “fetching hour” of the night. This is another reason why you should be very careful about your daughter’s sleepover choices. Stay away from the girls with hoity-toity parents. You don’t want them gossiping about your scary self. You might remember Suzi’s dad as a handsome man: clean-shaven with bright blue eyes. That’s his daytime look. At “the fetching hour” he looks like Fred Flintstone. I could only hope he didn’t mention to anyone that I looked as if I’d been electrocuted. I look like a mad woman when I don’t get my sleep.

Just after you tuck each child in and say good night (morning), your daughter will remember the popcorn and ice cream downstairs. You will hear what sounds like a herd of centipedes running down the stairs as your head hits the pillow. Your husband will sleep through all of this, so be sure to make mental notes. He’ll love to hear all about it in the morning.

There is usually an array of talent in the sleepover group: a gymnast, a dancer, a singer and a baton twirler, if you’re lucky. After ice cream with sprinkles and whipped cream, these talents come to life at 4 a.m. Music will fill your house. No, really, music will FILL your house. Dance lessons will ensue as they learn new shake moves in their jammies. The gymnast is always a winner because she uses your sofa top as a balance beam while she shimmies. And let’s not forget the singer, who is really not a singer in the darkness of the night. After a gallon of coffee and after the sun has risen, I might enjoy her rendition of “I’m Too Sexy for My Shorts.” Maybe not.

The girls who thought you were the sweetest of all the moms will now change their minds after you swoop into the family room looking like a flying monkey from “The Wizard of Oz” and scream, “Go the hell to SLEEP! Stop singing, balancing and dancing and for the love of God; my broom is not a baton!” It is very important that you watch your language here. If you slip and use a curse word, it will go down in history. The moment their parents ask, “Did you have fun at your sleepover?” they will rat you out. I used to ask if the other parents cursed at three in the morning so I didn’t feel alone.

Unlike after popping out that baby and having breakfast delivered to your hospital room, you now have to get back into the kitchen. The breakfast menu request is usually pancakes. Try to stay awake while flipping on a hot grill. They will all be wide awake and chatting about how cute Suzy’s dad is and how he’s so nice. They will not say that about you. The only thing they might say is, “You make good pancakes. Do you have chocolate chips?”

Within two hours, all of the girls will be gone. You and your child will go back to bed and be unable to sleep. She will want to chat about how happy she is that they were all at her house. As you doze off, you might hear her ask, “Can we do it again next Saturday night?” And if you’re really tired, you might dream that you said, “Yes. It was so much fun!”

Sleepovers are one of those things like labor. When you’re going through it, labor is hell. When the baby arrives, you forget the pain until you have another baby. The memories will rush back with each contraction.

As you regain your lost sleep, you will weaken and there will be a group of little people with sleeping bags and backpacks at your door once again, and again, and again.

And when those days are over, you won’t really remember the labor-like pains, you’ll smile at the memory of Fred Flintstone (Suzy’s dad), the broom baton, “I’m Too Sexy for My Shorts” and those little centipede legs running down the stairs in the middle of the night.

Trust me — you don’t want to miss this!

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at Anz World.

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