The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Stick a pencil in my retina

Diana DavisI was looking through some old flash drives today and found this pitch letter I wrote to an editor of some magazine way back in February 2009. I figured I’d share it in honor of everybody who has ever wanted to poke out their eyes from living like a Hobbit in a small Manhattan apartment (or anywhere else in the world).

Dear Kim,

I adore my boyfriend but lately I want to stick a pencil in his retina. Not just because he leaves his size 12 shoes in our size-10 hallway but more because I have nowhere else to put them. We live in an almost 400-square foot apartment in mid-town Manhattan. I’ve pared my belongings down to a sock, a toothbrush and a fork. He chose his X-Box over his winter coat. Our bed lives in the wall. We keep our rollerblades in the kitchen cupboard — there was a pebble in my Frito Lay bag the other day. It was the same day I made him stand in the hallway for 20 minutes because his onion breath was giving me heartburn. We’re very close. Literally.

Ikea provides millions of solutions for fitting shoes and hair products into spaces where the only hope for privacy is sticking your head out the window — but can we find room for a healthy, loving relationship? Like so many young couples struggling to survive through these tough economic times and living in the City that Never Sleeps, you can’t help but worry if your relationship is getting just as squashed as your favorite Louis Vuitton. I’ve got an expert ready to sit with me and give her best advice on how to make relationships work in even the smallest spaces.

Like Sinatra once belted so optimistically, “if we can make it here, we can make it anywhere.” He must have lived in a loft. Alone.

Here are a couple of things you may be wondering after reading that:

1. My “boyfriend” is now my husband. (Can you believe we actually got married after that? Love really is dumb.)

2. I have no idea who I was referring to when I said I have an “expert ready to sit with me.” I’m sure I was planning on using that high-pitched voice I save for solicitors.

3. Who is Kim? No clue. But I know she never called. Maybe she was afraid I would stick my pencil in her retina.

4. Yes, we live in a bigger place now. But we also have a baby so I had to say goodbye to my sock, toothbrush and fork and hello to a whole bunch of baby crap I’m still not sure how to use.

5. Yes! We really did get married after that! I know. He can’t believe it either.

— Diana Davis

Diana Davis is a writer who started as a baker who didn’t bake, a dental assistant to the dental assistant and a shoe saleswoman who gagged around feet. Since then, she’s written all kinds of stuff for all kinds of companies in all kinds of offices. She’s even written newspaper ads for car dealers (some of her best work has probably lined your birdcage). If you woke up one day covered in baby poop with one shaved leg, knee-deep in your husband’s dirty drawers and thought, “Wow, that must have been one hell of a roofie,” then her blog, The Spew, just might be for you. She’s been featured on BonBon Break, BluntMOMS and HumorOutcasts. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and living in Jersey (stop judging).

Hey, Facebook
Yes, I’m talking to you

Paul_Lander(This piece originally appeared on Reposted by permission of author Paul Lander.) 

1. Hey, Facebook, stop asking if I’m ‘friends’ with Beyoncé, Salma Hayak and Jennifer Lawrence. If I was, you think I’d spend this much time here?

2. Hey, Facebook, stop putting up the ads that people can search for anyone’s arrest records. I’m not saying this for me, but for a friend.

3. Hey, Facebook, every time you make an unnecessary change, the terrorists win.

4. Hey, Facebook, stop with the Metamucil ads. It’s not the kind of getting my sh** together that I need.

5. Hey, Facebook, stop showing the 15-minute retirement plan ad post. For most of us, that’s the amount of time we’ll actually get to be in retirement.

6. Hey, Facebook, that guy in the Medic Alert sponsored post has fallen and he can’t get up… Do something!

7. Hey, Facebook, thanks for thinking I might be friends with Martin Scorsese, but I believe those of us who know him call him Marty…

8. Hey, Facebook, stop showing the ad to learn Spanish like that’ll give me a shot with the Hot Latina in ad. Her pointing and laughing at me is the same in any language.

9. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the ‘Introducing the Limited Edition, Asteroid Dusted, William Shatner Timepiece by Egard Watch’ post. Yeah, I’m sure it’s a fine quality timepiece, ‘cuz Shatner would never whore himself for money.

10. Hey, Facebook, thanks for post ‘suffer from Schizophrenia? Earn up to $4,850.’ I bet people who also have multiple personality disorder can earn two to three times that.

11. Hey, Facebook, thanks for the post to become a ‘Substance Abuse Counselor.’ If you were so smart, you’d know today I needed a counselor to help me find substances to abuse.

12. Hey, Facebook, who does someone have to poke around here to get some customer service?

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written standup material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney‘s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. He was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month” in April 2015.

There’s no place like home!
Especially your old one

Stephanie LewisSometimes a walk down memory lane will lead you straight to the front porch of the home you grew up in, or raised your own family.

It’s a great “field trip” to teach children about their roots, and it may be cathartic for you as well. I have six kids and decided to show each of them the apartment or house where they spent their childhood days. We were able to recapture a lot of nostalgia, get good photos, and even release some emotional baggage from visiting our environments of yesteryear. So would you dare go back?? I say yes!

8 tips on implementing this unusual endeavor

1. Mystery and adventure: Approach this in an impromptu fashion. Don’t tell children in advance where you’re going and why. It could lead to disappointment if the new owners aren’t home, or worse, uncooperative. The house could be torn down or surrounded with one of those charming huge termite tents. I made the mistake of enticing my 6-year-old son with viewing his old bedroom and when the new owners refused, he pounded on the door shouting, “Let me in or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.”

2. Be reassuring! When you ring the bell of your old home, remember everything is familiar to you, but you’re complete strangers to the people answering the door! Set the new owner’s mind at ease that you’re not a realtor or a magazine solicitor. Say something like, “Oh look, Darling, there’s the same threshold you carried me over after our wedding, you tiger!” Be prepared for them to mentally calculate how much you weigh and scrutinize the size of your husband’s arms. Also, upon departing, resist the urge to place an “Open House” sign on their lawn.

3. Offer evidence. Say something very specific that will prove you really lived there. In the case of the home where I was pregnant with twins, we had written a little term of endearment on the floor tile where my water broke. “Little Fishies Started Here!” When I marched the current residents over to the exact spot to show them this cute piece of trivia, they had constructed an aquarium on top of it. Hmmm. I shudder to think what they would’ve built had we scrawled, “Conception took place here.”

4. Stay a short time. You’re not arriving with your wedding china and recreating a family dinner. Ten minutes is the maximum you should stay if they’re willing to give you a brief tour.

5. Don’t be nosy. It’s not a good idea to ask if your neighbor across the street ever got that much-needed nose job. And for goodness sake, don’t critique their decorating skills. The last thing they’ll want to hear is that you can’t believe they put their bed against the same wall you used to keep the diaper pail.

6. No bad news. Try not to walk through their kitchen reminiscing about the time little Sarah choked on a chicken bone. Or confess your dog peed all over the stairs. One time I was thrown out because I took a little creative license (from the “Poltergeist” movie) and announced the home was built on top of old Indian burial grounds. Sheesh. No sense of humor.

7. Don’t get emotional. If you’re prone to sentimentality when you look through old photos or watch home movies, prepare yourself in advance. I learned the hard way when we visited the home my beloved architect father designed for us. I burst into tears as soon as I saw the lovely stained glass windows in my bedroom had been replaced with bricks, the pink walls were painted gray and my white shag carpeting turned into concrete. The only thing missing was a hole in the ground for a toilet and it could’ve been Cellblock 9.

8. Leave on a high note. Thank them profusely for their hospitality and give them a joyful parting tidbit like, “We hope you’ll have many happy occasions here just like our Christmas family reunions!” Clamp your hand over your kid’s mouth if he starts to say things like “Yeah, and Santa Clause NEVER delivers the good toys that need assembly to this house. And the tooth fairy always leaves “IOU” notes under the pillow!” Simply say, “Gee, it’s wonderful how nicely all the blood stains came out of the carpeting!” and whisk your brood back to your new home.

— Stephanie D. Lewis

Stephanie D. Lewis regularly contributes to Huffington Post as well as pens a humor blog, “Once Upon Your Prime” where she tries to “Live Happily Ever Laughter.” She also writes an ongoing “Female Fun” column for North County Woman Magazine called Razzle, Dazzle & Frazzle and was named one of 2014 Voices of the Year by BlogHer. Her 2008 book, Lullabies & Alibis, is the tale of marriage, motherhood, mistakes and madness.  As a single mother of six, she knows a lot about the madness.  She’s supervised potty training and driver’s training simultaneously.  Too many accidents.  A live-in housekeeper?  Nah, she’ll take a live-in psychotherapist.

The other mother

Linda Doty Divorce is never easy, and even the most mature people go through hardship. One thing I know about my ex and I — we were definitely not the most mature people when we divorced nearly a quarter century ago. I’ll spare you the sad, sad story because this essay is not about divorce.

It’s about motherhood.

With divorce, one or both parties often go on to connect with new partners. If those connections get serious, sometimes a commitment is made, and if there are children involved from the previous marriage, this transforms the new partner into a step-parent.

That title conjures up all sorts of images in our society, such as evil fairy-tale stepmothers who make their poor abused stepdaughters clean ashes from the hearth and miss the prince’s ball. Or something.

Blending a family is no small feat, let me tell you. I, myself, remarried a man who became an only occasionally evil stepfather to my children. But this essay is not about my second husband. Not at all.

It’s about motherhood.

My ex-husband also found love after our divorce. Well, if we’re being honest, it was slightly before our divorce, but I digress.

He and I were fairly young, in our 20s, when we divorced. His new girlfriend was even younger. She was 18. It’s hard enough going through a divorce, but when your ex takes up with an 18-year-old hot chick when you are at your lowest low, it’s even harder.

The first time I met Jenny, she wanted to be friends. We were at a party, and she followed me around trying to strike up a conversation. I wanted to call her mother and say, “Your daughter is in a place where there is alcohol and she is not of drinking age. Oh, and did you know her boyfriend is a divorced man with two children who refuses to go to prom with her?” But I didn’t. This essay is not about my bitterness.

It’s about motherhood.

Over the course of the ensuing months, I got my jabs in.  I would say to my ex, “Our daughter is struggling with her algebra homework. Do you think your girlfriend could help?”  Or maybe, “I’m looking for a new pediatrician. Who does your girlfriend go to?”  I wasn’t very nice sometimes. But this essay is not about my penchant for snark.

It’s about motherhood.

Over time, we all stabilized emotionally, and I stopped with the mean comments. My daughters went to their dad’s house regularly. Jenny was always there.  Eventually, my ex married Jenny. My ex and Jenny had children of their own, and my daughters loved these new little siblings in their lives as much as the new little siblings I brought into the world in my second marriage.

Jenny and I have shared some important events in the lives of my daughters, of our daughters. We’ve been to school plays and band concerts and sporting events. To high school and college graduations. To two amazing, beautiful weddings. We’ve spent a night together in the hospital awaiting the arrival of our first grandbaby.

Where motherhood is concerned, Jenny is the yin to my yang. Where I am tough and efficient (a phone call with me will rarely go over four minutes or I’ll start getting jittery), she is sensitive and empathetic. Phone calls with her can evidently go on forever. Where she is sentimental, I am pragmatic.

Our girls had the challenge of juggling two very different mothers, but hopefully it all balanced out in the end. It must have. Our daughters are pretty fabulous.

In the years following my divorce, Jenny took wonderful care of my girls, of our girls.  She loved them and listened to them and talked to them and fed them and accommodated their schedules and needs when they were with her.

This essay is about that.

In this day and age, there are plenty of divorces, plenty of second marriages, plenty of step-parent stories that come a little too close to reinforcing the stereotype. But the story of a wonderful stepmother isn’t a man-bites-dog anomaly. It happens quite frequently; it’s just that we don’t hear about it as often as we should.

Jenny isn’t my BFF and probably never will be, but she is the best other-mother I could have hoped for for our daughters, and for that I will always be grateful.

This side of motherhood isn’t celebrated as much as it should be, as much as it deserves to be.

This essay is about Jenny and all the Jennys out there who step into the role of mother with children who are not (yet) theirs, often when the children’s biological parents don’t make that journey very smooth for them. Their contributions do not go unnoticed and are much appreciated.

Thank you, Jenny.

And to all the “evil” stepmothers out there who do right by their stepchildren, Happy Mother’s Day!

— Linda Doty

Linda Doty  writes on Twitter as @LindaInDisguise, on her personal blog, Just Linda, and sometimes on her professional blog, Linda Doty Writes. Rumor has it, she even writes on bathroom walls.  She’s a St. Louis native, married for 29 years (sure, to two different men, but she wants full credit for time served). She has five daughters, ranging in age from 10 to 31, and one grandson with another grandchild on the way. Linda works as an astronaut for a large corporation (not really, but it’s easier to say that than to try to explain what a VP of Sourcing Operations does).  She writes and writes and waits to be discovered, but is secretly terrified it will be by a concerned mental health professional rather than a big-time publisher.

Is this seat taken?

Roz WarrenA single woman should regard every train ride as an opportunity, I once read in one of those “How to Find A Boyfriend” books.

“When boarding the train, don’t take the first available seat,“ the author advised. “Walk through all the cars looking for a cute guy sitting alone, then sit next to him.”

This may well help you meet that cute guy, but it’s unlikely to get your relationship off to a good start. After all, nobody really wants to give up that extra seat. Sure, you‘re only entitled to the seat you paid for, not the empty one next to it. But that doesn’t stop most of us from hoping for both seats anyway.

On Amtrak, there are frequent announcements telling you not to hog both seats. “This is a full train!” the conductor intones. “Don’t put your personal belongings on the seat beside you. We need every seat.” I’m listening to this as I watch my fellow passengers busily piling backpacks, briefcases, shopping bags and gigantic suitcases on that extra seat, as well as employing a variety of other strategies to ensure that nobody sits there.

On a recent Amtrak journey, the woman sitting across the aisle from me stretched out across both seats and closed her eyes every time we approached a station. Once the boarding passengers had all found seats and the train was moving again, she‘d “wake up” and go about her business until it was again time to feign sleep. Thanks to this ploy, she was able to hang onto that empty seat for the entire trip.

This little trick doesn‘t always work. The entire train car I was in once watched, riveted, as a middle-aged man searching for a seat on a crowded train paused, then began hollering at a kid who was stretched, eyes closed,  across two seats.

“Sit up this minute!“ he roared. “You’re not fooling me, young man! Did you pay for two seats? You have no right to take up two seats! Shame on you! Sit up now!”

The kid sat up, rubbing his eyes.  “What’s your problem, man?” he protested. “I was only trying to sleep. I would have given up the seat. You just had to ask.”

“Don’t you dare pull that crap on me,” Angry Guy bellowed. “I know exactly where you’re coming from. You have a lot of nerve!”

The kid stood up, shaking his head, grabbed his bag from the overhead rack and moved to another car. Angry Guy got both seats to himself for the rest of the trip. (For some reason, nobody wanted to sit next to him.)

While I understood his frustration with Sleeping Beauty, that level of rage seemed way out of line.  “Looks like somebody brought a little extra EMOTIONAL baggage on board with him today,“ I remarked to my seat mate.

Most people simply put something on the empty seat and hope for the best. Others go a bit further. I have a friend who swears that nobody will sit next to you if you’re eating a stinky sandwich. Another always removes her shoes and socks, which, she says,  guarantees that nobody will want to share her seat. Doing your nails or talking loudly on your cell phone can also do the trick.  One of my co-workers always takes the aisle seat and then puts both tray tables down, creating a little obstacle course for anybody who wants to grab that empty window seat.  Many people plop down in an aisle seat, put their bag on the seat next to them, then plug in their IPOD, lean back and shut their eyes.

Some people, of course, are simply so fat as to require both seats.

I have a friend who doesn’t put anything on the empty seat. Instead, he visualizes a huge, muscular, angry-looking guy sitting there. “You’re saying that you travel with an imaginary friend?” I ask. He nods. “And he’s one scary-looking dude. He does a great job of keeping that seat free.”

Whatever works.

In the most amazing display of seat-hogging chutzpah I’ve ever witnessed, I once saw a man calmly pour a substantial amount of bottled water on the seat beside him as the train approached the station. To each “Is this seat taken?” he responded. “It’s wet, I’m afraid. I spilled my drink on it.“

He failed to mention that he’d done this deliberately. Naturally, he got that seat to himself.

(Later,  on my way back from the club car, I was tempted to “stumble” as I passed his seat and “accidentally” douse him with Pepsi. I didn’t. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And I actually wanted to drink that Pepsi. Plus, I didn’t know what terrible acts of vengeance a man like that was capable of, and I didn’t really want to find out.)

When I board a crowded train, I don’t look for a cute guy to sit next to. Instead, I’ll often amuse myself by finding the passenger who has gone to the most trouble to avoid having a seat mate, and sit next to them. I’ll walk right past the cute guy sitting alone in order to ask the woman who has piled a hundred million suitcases on the seat beside her, “Is this seat taken?“ Then I wait for her to remove all her stuff from the seat so I can claim it. Sitting in a seat like that seems that much sweeter for the trouble I had to go through to get it.

Of course, the delight I take in little exchanges like this might just explain why I’m still single.

— Roz Warren

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

Dancing in a ray of light

Carissa KapcarMonday morning welcomed me with defeat.  Actually, it slapped me across the face.

Sunday evening I chose relaxation (and a magazine) over preparation and was punished for it just 12 hours later when a holler roared over the streaming shower water as an alert that we hadn’t completed the school papers that were due that day.

Suddenly everything was abruptly propelled into action as I scrambled out and threw on clothes before offering an apologetic sigh to the tired image in the mirror. There was no time to blow dry or conceal. I didn’t rise early and do the things I aspire to do like jog or stretch. And I didn’t do the things I have to do like pack lunches and complete the papers.

The papers weren’t for anything big, just book orders and field trips. But it’s this little stuff that’s big stuff when you’re a kid and, therefore, becomes part of the very big job of parenthood. And it’s in this role that I was feeling increasingly defeated recently.

I hurried downstairs — to the papers, backpacks and breakfast. With few groceries and no time to preheat the oven, innovation was key.

I chose to broil frozen chicken nuggets for a fast, if not nutritious, meal. When I looked away then back, the nuggets were on fire! Another domestic defeat.  I couldn’t even heat up frozen chicken nuggets…and for breakfast.

Smoke filled the kitchen, and the alarm sounded as nuggets were tossed into the sink. Two of the kids cried, but the oldest was obliviously enthralled with a book. When he finally noticed the emergency, I tried to hide my exasperation that he’s seemingly always lost in his own world.

Hurrying, I nudged him to the door and he made a clumsy move to avoid stepping on a beam of sunlight entering from a window. Through the smoke, the beam made floating dust flakes sparkle before landing on the spot on the floor that he had just stepped over.  “That’s beautiful,” he remarked, as his youngest sister skipped into the sunbeam and twirled with arms in the air.

In that moment, domestic defeat was replaced with parental pride as I was reminded that if this was what being lost in your own world feels like, then perhaps we all need to get lost once in a while.  Because instead of smoke lingering at our ceiling, I focused on the illuminated and smiling faces of my oldest and youngest children.

These radiating bookends of my motherhood were drawn to the light, seeing straight through the everyday little stuff and right into the big beautiful stuff. They knew how to soak up the sunshine and dance in a ray of light!

— Carissa Kapcar

Carissa Kapcar is a writer and happy, grateful, sometimes funny and often times tired mother of four (three living) who shuttles a minivan around the Chicago suburbs and clings to just enough irreverence to stay sane. Once upon a time she graduated from Miami University and worked in advertising on the East coast. These days she can be found in the school car pool line or blogging at or the Huffington Post where she shares “stories that reveal gratitude in the mess of everyday life.” Her work also has been featured on and is a part of the book Return To Zero.

When to say no to a career in horticulture

Noah Vail and Mary FarrI never felt moved to garden.

A weekly CSA full of carrots makes a delicious gift, but last year when I was craving a fresh rhubarb crisp, our CSA farmer Clyde Gunderson delivered a bushel of kale. Incidentally green kale combined with blueberries and a shot of apple juice, makes another color — brown. Hence, the term Poo Smoothie made its way into our food lexicon. But, more to the point, why squander good money on fertilizer and compost when Andres and I toss it out of my room every day?

Madam, on the other hand, swoons when the spring seed catalogs arrive. Daffodils, mums, heirloom tomatoes — she sticks them in the ground the minute she can chisel a hole in the dirt. A case in point: last spring, she expanded her petite kitchen garden into an enterprise worthy of the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum. Size, by the way, didn’t necessarily spell success. Just about the time she popped a fabulous looking head of cauliflower into boiling water, an entire worm family swam for cover. Thus ended the blanch-and-freeze operation. Yet, Madam is nothing if not persistent.

Armed with this information, I should not have been surprised when she texted me to ask if I would bring big Sven over to her place to help tidy up last year’s botanical behemoth. According to her, it was a job requiring horsepower from manly specimens like the two of us.

“We’ll need to pull your Comfy Sundowner trailer out of the shed for this little undertaking,” she added. “All the garden litter and leftover pumpkins will never fit in the Subaru Outback.”

“Um, how about bagging the stuff and leaving it on the curb for Aspen Waste Management,” I suggested. If memory serves, last year’s clean up produced a number of hidden surprises including slippery night crawlers and a petrified vole.

I tried to explain. “The idea of thawing rabbit poo and rotted hostas joyriding in my Comfy Sundowner just feels wrong,” I offered politely. “And sharing space with rodent carcasses doesn’t appeal to Sven either. He might be a big shire but he happens to be afraid of mice.”

It helped her case that she kept referring to Sven and me as manly specimens. So, with minimal coaxing and the promise of a Dairy Queen Moo Latte, we agreed to help. Sven loaded up our Bobcat Gator and a few pitchforks, and Madam drove us to her home for a morning of garden prep.

Once we filled the Comfy Sundowner, she announced, “Okay boys, jump in. We’re off to the St. Claire Avenue compost site to get rid of this stuff.”

We climbed in. Sven tied a dish towel over his nose cowboy style to protect against the Eau de Squirrel fragrance that wafted from within. Fortunately the ride took just minutes, though lots of other folks had the same idea. Fully loaded cars and trucks wound around the driveway and down the street. So, we caught a quick nap while we waited. Once Madam reached the front of the line, she pulled up to the nearest pile of organic matter and started pitching while Sven and I waited inside the trailer.

Folks must have been feeling jumpy with all that waiting because, soon enough, a fracas broke out somewhere in the next row over.

“What’s all that shouting?” whispered Sven.

I stretched my neck attempting to get a look out my window, just in time for a rotten tomato to smack the glass. I ducked, and Sven gasped. More shouts followed. “It’s coming from that red van,” I whispered back. “Can you see anything from your side?”

“All I can see is Madam pointing at a sign that says No Guns, Fighting, or Foul Language Allowed on these Premises. Violators will be Prosecuted!” Just about then, a muddy cantaloupe ricocheted off the trailer door, as Madam yanked it open and jumped in. Armed with a pitchfork and a plastic bag, she appeared to be ready for a firm discussion.

“Why don’t you just call 911 and let the authorities stop over for a word,” I suggested, to no avail. (No pun intended).

“You boys don’t move a whisker,” she commanded, disregarding my entreaty. “I’m tossing the rest of this stuff right out the back door, and we’ll be out of here in a flash. “

By now, the shouting had escalated to an unruly level, and I could see the site supervisor galloping across the parking area waving his fist. A woman in a pink tube top bellowed at her boyfriend Frank calling him a good for nothing lump. A guy named Billy threw a punch at a fellow driving a Ford Super Duty pickup. Just at that moment, a can of beer made it through the pickup driver’s open window. That was when the foul language struck a high note.

Meanwhile, Madam kept pushing garden remains out the trailer door. She then slammed and bolted the tailgate, jumped in her Dodge Ram, and drove for home like a volunteer firefighter on her way to a four- alarmer.

“What the heck was that about?” Sven squeaked as we bounced over a curb and up the hill. “I thought compost sites were friendly places where folks traded tips on grilling sweet corn.”

“Hmm… I suppose that sign should have been our first clue,” I reasoned out loud. “I’ll have to admit though, that woman in pink had quite an arm to pitch a full can of beer through a truck window.” Sven shuddered at the thought.

Noah“Yes, but do you think this will keep Madam from gardening this year?” he croaked, wincing at the prospect of getting beaned by a can of Summit Pale Ale.

“Not a chance,” I replied. Once she gets a big idea, she’s hard to deter.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy,” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival. Their newest book, When Your Plan A Bombs, is due out in June.

Women, yard work and the silent treatment

Charles HartleyDown through three generations of my family, there has been one constant. When I finally succumb to doing yard work — in a disenchanted and perturbed frame of mind each time since the age of seven — the women in my life leave me alone. They go inside the house or walk away from me, stop talking, and my world goes quiet.

My grandmother, for example, used to ask me to help her rake leaves from her magnolia tree in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The tree is taller than Mount Everest and has more leaves on it than there are grains of sand on America’s East Coast.

Every year those magnolia leaves would fall. Before I went to the beach hoping to get some sun and walk the boardwalk to buy funnel cakes, my grandmother would ask me to help her rake those leaves. It seemed that every time I went there was the time for raking those leaves.

On one visit we were out there at 7 a.m. on a day when I had planned to sleep in after battling through my tough daily life back in Washington, D.C., where the world is a struggle, traffic is insane, and intellectual competition is ferocious, and politicians tell half-truths all the time.

But what choice did I have? It was her house in which I was staying. In that sense, she owned me. You can’t argue when any host asks you to do housework. You couldn’t argue with her anyway, God rest her soul, because when she wanted something to happen, it happened no matter what interference she met such as me suggesting I wanted to lie on the beach instead.

Once I started raking, I got depressed. There were so many leaves. They were like cockroaches that reinvented themselves ceaselessly. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing that doesn’t work over and over again. Source: Tony Robbins or someone he quoted in one of his mega-seminar speeches.

Once she had me trapped pushing leaves around, she would wander off to another part of the yard and pick weeds from her gardens. Talked ended. She had me going — on the ropes — and didn’t want anything or anyone to disrupt the flow.

This same dynamic occurred many times with my mother while living in her house. If she got me to cut the grass, it was striking how she would disappear into the house and not say anything to me. This was unusual because she often spoke to me. I was out in the yard and, like her mother, she didn’t want anything to happen to stop me from working. I think she thought conversation, my sight of her, might cause me to complain or debate the need to do the work. She wouldn’t allow me to see her. To this day I wonder if she was hiding in the house somewhere so that if I came in complaining, I couldn’t be able to find her to engage in any conversation.

Fast forward a few decades. The cycle continues. A few weeks ago my wife unloaded a request that I trim several of our bushes in the front yard. They were overgrown, she told me. I hadn’t noticed. I never do when it comes to this sort of thing. The less I know the better.

But I wasn’t getting out of this. You can just tell when you are going to lose. She asks if I want to use the old school manual clippers or the electric shaver. At first I think it would be good exercise to use the manual ones. Getting old, I’m concerned about losing my muscle tone. The manual ones could have been good for building my forearms.

This thought left me, however, when I thought about how much easier it would be to use the automatic blades powered by an electric cord.

Once she told me exactly what she wanted done on all the bushes, helping me visualize what was in her mind’s eye, suddenly she disappeared into the house. There I was again, alone, in the yard, in the silence, not being talked to, facing the beast, yardwork.

Clipping those bushes turned out to be less fun and more tedious than even I expected. I find that while doing yard work some tool or some bugs or some cobweb always ruin the vibe. This time it was the sweat steaming off my forehead into my eyes. It made them sting like a jelly fish. How much I prefer the beach to yardwork is incalculable.

Even more annoying than the sting-ray sweat was that the plug inserted into the electric clippers outlet would not stay in for more than a few seconds. What a piece of junk. I couldn’t get it to fasten in tightly even after trying in earnest, for once, to do something in the yard without asking anyone for help or just quitting before the job was done.

Quitting is not a good habit unless it’s quitting yard work. This is my credo.

So every few seconds, after clipping a few bush stems, the clippers would go off. I had to plug it in — again — and push start — again — wipe more acidic sweat from my eyes — again — and clip a few more branches.

Except for the lousy clippers, all was silent.

— 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.

Reflections of Erma