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What doesn’t kill you makes you funnier

Abby L.Recently, I realized a major occurrence: I’m still alive, which in a sense is quite a miracle.

Since I survived many emotional breakdowns, physical crash-downs, natural disasters as well as personal (and family-related) major health problems, I consider myself a lucky person (I thought of another word in this place, but changed my mind due to the fact that coarse language might not be the best choice for a G-rated article).

What prompted me to write the following story has its origins in my recent re-evaluation process that started on the day I turned 40. That number didn’t seem frightening a few digits before, yet, in reality, it turned out to be the scariest thing since Scary movie No 5. It literally terrified the socks off me when I discovered that life could be an ultra tricky thing, putting you through tests that you never even thought possible (and surely didn’t think yourself capable of surviving, at least in your mind).

There was the Berlin Wall falling when I was residing as a foreign student in former West Germany (well, it didn’t fall on my head, so that’s alright). There was the flooding when I was studying for my master’s degree. I helped after hours by putting sand bags around the endangered areas to prevent gushing (as a result we started to drink bottled water instead of tap, so that’s not all too bad). There was certainly the hailstorm in Sydney, Australia, with droplets the size of golf balls while I was writing my Ph.D. thesis as the roof crashed down (ok, I admit it, that’s quite major, but I managed to escape the storm with only minor injuries, so I guess that’s ok).

Yet, none of those fateful incidences came close to the ultimate test I was to face. The most challenging life lesson came rather unexpectedly in the form of my not-as-fresh-as-a-daisy health issues and my mom’s brain tumor.

I don’t think that anybody is prepared to experience the most challenging time of their lives by watching their loved ones brush with never-ever land. Witnessing the people you love with one foot on the other side (I’ve already lost my father at a very young age, which was quite an unsettling experience) can make the strongest person weep and freak out. While I don’t want to go into details of how I almost lost my mom, I’d like to indicate at this point that it traumatized me for life. Plus, it’s doubly tough when you’re in the middle of menopause at the age of 38, while taking care of young children at the same time.

Funny enough, what I thought would have made me a bitter, disheartened and downright hostile person (again, I will refrain from using a bad word here although I’m quite tempted to do so) made me rediscover laughter. I have to confess it’s a rather curious thing that a dramatic situation can make us catch up on lost-along-the-way humor and make us roll in the aisles again in an unexpected manner.

As Erma Bombeck once said, “Laughter arises from tragedy when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.”

There is no better quote that would sum up my life’s journey at this point.

Owing to tragedy, I began to laugh at myself, the way I view the world and the whole emotional misery thing. And while it didn’t help me fix my heartbreak, it surely helped me see the world differently and make fun of it. It even let me add another language to my resume: I’m fluent in sarcasm now, so that makes it the sixth language I can speak.

And while I can’t say I’m grateful to life for putting me through all of this, I’m definitely thankful for one thing: It made me funny as hell, and it didn’t kill me!

— Abby L.

Abby L. is a former Ph.D. student and lecturer of European studies at the University of McGill, globetrotter and mom of 7, who is blogging at about (you’ve guessed it) midlife crisis, turning 40 and living as an expat in France. She’s contributed to Midlife,, and

I hate glasses

Bob Niles“Honey do you have my glasses!?” I accuse and ask the wife simultaneously.

I hope she’d moved them or seen them as I blindly search in vain.

“Use mine. They’re on the kitchen counter!” she answered.

I hate using other people’s glasses. It’s that whole washing behind your ears and eyebrows and hair and stuff. Or perhaps they chewed on the ends of them like some slobbery sexy librarian. Other people have no problem borrowing your glasses, talking on your cell phone that  you’ve spit all over, and writing with your pencil that you’ve hungrily eaten the eraser and the top two inches off. Not me! No thank you!

“Oh, here they are,” I lie, covering my phobia because it draws her kisses into question.

I now hunt for my glasses covertly and in silence. I start down the stairs and forget what I’m doing or looking for until my phone buzzes to let me know I have a text. I reach for the phone and then remember what I was doing as I look at the screen. “I need my glasses!”

“You said you found them,” she shouts from somewhere in the house.

Dang, too loud. Gotta remember she can still hear.

Never in the course of history has humankind been so needy of quality visual aids. Because everything you do now has some sort of screen that requires you to have vision equal to that of a young eagle. And my vision started to fail just as everything started requiring video screens.

And what’s bad about it all is I don’t need glasses for most things. So, rather than wear them all the time, I leave them all over the house so I can curse and fume for them later.glasses

I only need glasses to read, or if I’m curious about something. I drive the car without glasses! And, as they say, if you don’t like the way I drive, stay out of the kitchen.

I have an HD TV and without my glasses on it’s just like the TV I had as a kid with rabbit ears. My dad had heard that rabbit ears improved TV reception. But no matter how many rabbits he killed, the TV still had a fuzzy screen. And top!

I don’t need my glasses to watch Walter Cronkite (I think it’s Walter) every night on the news to keep up with current events. I watch a retro channel for entertainment, as I remember what all the stars looked like in the ’60s and ’70s. And now with my memory, as good as it is,  they’ve started writing new shows again.

It’s just the new things in my life that trouble me. Everything digital! And everything’s digital! I can’t make popcorn in the microwave or coffee in the 12-cup drip without hunting the house first. It’s hunting, then stopping and trying to remember what I’m doing. Remember, then hunt some more for the glasses before I forget again. And it’s not just at home that you need your glasses. The whole world has replaced humans with touch screens.

This morning I went to the bank to withdraw $100. Because the line was so long, I used the cash machine. Forgot my glasses, so I had to ask the nice skinhead (or he was wearing a nylon stocking?) man to punch in my password and withdraw $100 for me. But he only gave me $60, saying the machine said that’s all I could get before lunch.

After that I went to buy a bag of groceries. It came to $78.54, and now have to use my bank card as my $60 won’t cover it. I then realize the nice man back at the bank forgot to give me back my debit card so I have to use my Visa card. I hand a girl (I think, can’t read her name tag) my card, and she points at a box with a keypad. I have no idea what the little gray box that I’m supposed to put my card in wants of me. Why can’t I just sign a big blank line like I use to!? (I do a lot of !? !? !? as I get older). Thank goodness the check-out girl remembered my number from last time I was there.

On the way home I stop for gas, but my card won’t work at the pump, and I don’t know why, but the machine knows why. It’s printed a lot of information on its video screen, but I have no glasses.

I try blocking the sun from the video screen as I try to ascertain why I can’t get gas. I’m moving from side to side, up and down, saluting the gas pump as I verbally abuse it.

“Here, borrow mine,” says the guy on the pump beside me as he hands me his glasses.

Awkward. Are people this quick lending their toothbrushes?

“Oh, silly me! These special sunglasses I have on have a button I just need to push,” I lie as I remove my James Bond glasses and pretend to push some magical button.

“Ah, there we go. Oops, says its rejected. Guess I’m poor. Well gotta go!” So off I drive on gas fumes wearing my James Bond shades with no idea why my card was rejected.

Hey, isn’t that the nice skinhead from the bank coming out of the liquor store? Can’t be. He couldn’t afford a whole shopping cart full of booze.

I drive to the next corner, thinking I should have asked him about my debit card. I cross four lanes of traffic and hit a big bump, which I guess was the median, to another gas station. I forgot I had 60 bucks!

“Home, honey, I’m high!” I joke as I close the back door. I place the car keys and my hat on hooks, which through experience have been real timesavers.

“I’m not sure if he purchased a trip for two to Bora Bora. Let me ask him, he just came through the door,” my wife says, then places her right hand over the receiver.

I mouth the word “NO,” shaking my head as my glasses fall from atop my noggin.

“Yes, go ahead and cancel the card. Blah blah blah blah. No, I’m sure it wasn’t stolen. He’s not beat up. But he soon will be!” she assures the phone as she makes a slashing motion across her throat and then points at me.

Well, found my glasses. They were under my hat the whole time. Yet another story about getting old you plan to keep to yourself. More and more these crazy stories fill my life.

“Let me get my glasses and a pen to write that down,” she says into the phone as she reaches in the mug with the broken handle for a pen, giving me the universal sign to hand over my glasses. Then again and again. Fingers opening and closing.

I hand her my glasses as a child would hand over candy he was caught with. Hesitant and crying.

“What’s your problem? They’re mine anyway! Yours are in the bathroom,” she’s says. “You took mine off the kitchen counter by mistake trying to read a text on your phone! And I had to use yours to… .Just you never mind what I had to use yours for.”

My mind runs wild with the things my glasses might have been used for or had seen in the bathroom. Now I’ve got to boil them without her seeing! She thinks I don’t love her when I boil my things after she uses them.

Interrupted, my pants vibrate as I search for which pocket the phone is in. Dang, it’s a text! Where did she say she put my glasses?

Here we go again! I hate glasses!

— Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names), honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs here.

At Wit’s End

Allison and Margaret Engel fondly remember their mother sitting at the breakfast table with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in hand, shaking with laughter.

“She could only manage to get out two words — Erma Bombeck,” recalled Allison, who has collaborated with her twin sister on a one-woman play, “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End.”

Starring stage and screen actress Barbara Chisholm, the world premiere is slated for Oct. 9-Nov. 8 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. Chisholm most recently appeared in the Oscar-winning 2014 film, “Boyhood.”

Broadway director David Esbjornson directs the humorous production, described as “a look at one of our country’s most beloved voices, who captured the frustrations of her generation by asking, ‘If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?’”

This is the duo’s second one-act play that celebrates women humorists. In 2010, the two journalists and authors brought the feistiness of syndicated Texas political columnist Molly Ivins to life in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.” Kathleen Turner starred in the critically acclaimed production on stages in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Calif., and Washington, D.C.Allison and Margaret Engel

After the premiere of “Red Hot Patriot,” Aaron Priest, Bombeck’s agent and longtime friend, contacted the playwrights about their interest in bringing Erma to life on stage.

At the peak of her career, Bombeck’s “At Wit’s End” column appeared in more than 900 newspapers, reaching 30 million readers. Her entertaining essays hung on refrigerator doors around the country because they captured so perfectly the foibles of family life. She’s arguably the most famous graduate of the University of Dayton, which honors her legacy through the popular biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. In 1996, she died of complications from a kidney transplant.

“It was such a delight to remember and read all of Erma’s books and columns,” Margaret said. “She is so witty and gets at the secret life of a family that makes us laugh in recognition.”

To research “At Wit’s End,” the sisters read her immense body of work — thousands of columns and a dozen books — and viewed “Good Morning America” clips from her 11 years on the show. They perused the University of Dayton’s online Erma museum for photographs, speeches and other material and interviewed Erma’s husband Bill, secretary Norma Born and the three children, Matt, Betsy and Andy.

“We had an avalanche of material to work with,” Allison said. “The family has been so wonderful as far as being generous with their time and remembrances.”

Matt Bombeck, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, said the family is looking forward to hearing Erma’s words performed. “The Engel sisters were absolutely the right playwrights to bring our mom’s humor to the stage,” he said. “We hope the play not only makes audiences laugh, but gives people a deeper insight into her life.”

The Engels’ appreciation for Bombeck grew enormously as they worked to translate her life for the stage. “We found her remarkable,” Allison said. “She was so well known that magazine polls showed her right up there with the pope among admired people, yet she didn’t go Hollywood. When the kids came home from school, she was just mom. We tried to portray that in the play. To be ordinary and have such remarkable fame, it’s almost impossible to pull that off.”

Bombeck poked fun at motherhood and housekeeping during a time of social change for women, drawing a legion of like-minded women as fans. “Many people probably don’t realize that she spent almost two years of her own time on her own dime stumping for the Equal Rights Amendment,” Margaret said. “She lived through the Depression and that experience of seeing what her (widowed) mother went through also informed her activism.”

As a champion for women’s lives, Bombeck would appreciate that 50 theatres in Washington, D.C. have agreed to premiere new work by women playwrights this fall as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.

Early ticket sales for “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” are strong, which doesn’t surprise the playwrights. “There’s pent-up demand for Erma,” Allison said.

For tickets, click here.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she also serves as executive director of strategic communications. (Illustration by Ed Fotheringham, courtesy of Arena Stage. Photo credit: Mark Berndt)

Dating lessons from a cut-rate flounder


Debbie WeissI overdid the online dating thing and am now in recovery.

I have killed off my avatar of amour, my doppelgänger of dating. I am no longer on any sites, my phone is quiet, and I have stopped overusing the emoji library. Since we are mortal and I hate to think it was all a waste of time, here is what I learned from being Ladywriter99 on Tinder, Plenty of Fish, J-Date and OK Vapid.

1. I’m not a commodity.

Meeting new prospects required serious maintenance. No dirty nails from gardening.  Dieting to remain at my “fighting weight.” No postponing appointments with my (ahem) hair colorist.

One Harley-driving fellow suggested I put up hotter pictures on my dating profile. Perhaps in heels and a tight black dress because I looked too girl-next-door. It’s hard to think of yourself as merchandise.  Although it’s probably realistic.

One of my girlfriends met her soulmate within a few weeks of going online. She gloated, “I don’t stay on the market for long!” I contemplated my far longer time “on the market,” i.e. Plenty of Fish, and felt like a cut-rate flounder. Maybe I should discount myself.

Enough. No more marketing myself to strangers. I groom less. I’ve stopped wearing eye make up. I eat lots of carrot cake. I’m in a happier place.

2. My time is valuable.

Even for an unemployed slacker like me, online dating takes a lot of time. Some guys proposed a first meeting on a day they claimed to have free time, saying they’d text me that day with the meeting time. And that day, I heard….nothing.

After I’d arranged my day so I wouldn’t be covered in gardening dirt or exercise sweat around the meet up. Which never happened. I hadn’t insisted on a set time because I wanted to seem flexible and chill. Actually, I am rigid and high-strung. If you don’t want to meet me, just say so. I’m a writer; I can deal with rejection.

3. Dating and regurgitation do not mix.

After a few first dates with the “not yet emotionally processed” divorced, I started to feel like Miss Lonelyhearts. This is a date. I won’t tell you about my acid stomach problems. Please don’t discuss your money-grubbing ex-wife, who didn’t appreciate you, and/or had an affair with your exterminator. After listening for awhile, I start to question YOUR judgment skills.

One otherwise charming fellow insisted on discussing “The Women who Ruined His Life” in excruciating detail. Like to understand him, I needed a topological map of his past relationships. Um…no.

And yes, I did go on too much about my late husband. I’m working on that.

4. I’m good at meeting strange men for vapid exchanges.

I was with my late husband for 32 years. After he died, I planned to melt into my sofa in a haze of dark chocolate gelato and Nicholas Sparks movies. I’d be the woman in the bourbon-stained bathrobe buying the giant, economy Bombay Sapphire gin and twelve Butterfingers at Bevmo.

But I “got out there.” Too much.

Still, I enjoyed the process. Most of the time. Having two or three meet-ups in one day, my multi-tasking skills improved. I can simultaneously text, e-mail, eat pre-made kale soup (fighting weight) and watch “Californication.”

Maybe this will prepare me for job interviews. Probably not. But I did feel socially adept. And resilient. Which is far better than isolated without options.

Good bye for now, Ladywriter99.

— Debbie Weiss

Debbie Weiss lives in the San Francisco Bay area where she was a practicing attorney for more than 10 years, which gives her writing a nice tone of bitterness. She is writing a memoir and anti-advice manual about widowhood following her husband’s death from cancer in April 2013.  It tackles the question of widow’s entropy: how did the appliances know my husband had died so they could all break down at once? She writes about dating and other misadventures at

We don’t play with a full deck

Judy ClarkeWherever a bevy of women of a certain age gather, there’s sure to be laughter. A group of dames I consort with, 33 if we’re all present, has had some uproarious times over the 14 years we’ve been together.

A splinter group plays canasta one Wednesday a month at O’Charley’s. This card-playing arm of the bunch has been “melding” for eight or 10 years. Naturally, we’ve, um, matured and some, or maybe all, of us have become forgetful or addled or maybe even doolally.

Many can’t shuffle the cards anymore thanks to arthritis and other problems, but we do have several battery-operated card-shufflers amongst us. They make the most annoying sound and seldom work properly. When we use them, people in the adjacent bar look our way.

Everyone in our foursome this past Wednesday — AJ, JoJo, Leanne, me — forgot some rule: deal 13 cards or 11? Is an eight worth five or 10? What’s wrong with two wild cards and two naturals in one meld?

Our silly mistakes kept us laughing, but then we veered to a discussion about memory loss. Because my husband has dementia I’m considered the “expert.” Someone asked how you would know if forgetting was just old age or a sign of dementia?

I told them that counting backwards by sevens was a test Peter’s doctor always does. Several years ago, he could count backwards so quickly that she would stop him when he got to 51 saying “Well done, good enough.”

“Why I could never do that,” AJ huffed. JoJo agreed, and I knew I wouldn’t get below 93 without pencil and paper. Leanne, the best of us at numbers, started counting, and soon we all helped by “air writing” the figures. We laughed hysterically at ourselves, four women on the shady side of 70 who couldn’t do simple subtraction. We managed to count as far as 65. “We did pretty well, didn’t we?” Joanne said.

“Yeah, but it took all four of us to do it,” Leanne said.

I love it when stars align, four-leaf clovers stand taller, and blog post ideas spring from unexpected sources. The bit of trivia below came from the widower of a dear friend who always had a joke and who I long ago dubbed the group’s “Raconteur Royale.”

“Common entertainment [in the good ol’ days] included playing cards. However, there was a tax levied when purchasing playing cards…applicable [only] to the ace of spades. To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards instead. Yet, since most games require 52 cards, these people were thought to be stupid or dumb because they weren’t ‘playing with a full deck.’”

— Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke is a wife, mother of two daughters, grandmother to two grown grandchildren, reader, writer and blogger in southwest Virginia. Her two non-fiction books, Mother Tough Wrote the Book and That’s all she wrote, can be found on her friends’ and family’s shelves, and she’s working on a novel, But why? (That’s the title of the novel, not a question to self).

How to find a winning title

Roz WarrenEvery writer (and every reader) knows how important a good title can be. The right title can make a potential reader eagerly reach for your book, while a bad title acts as a reader repellant.

When I needed a terrific title for my new collection of funny essays about books and library work, I waited with hope for inspiration to strike.

When it didn’t, a friend suggested that I use the title of one of the essays in the collection for the book‘s title. The two best candidates?  “A Nun Walks Into A Library.” And  “The Joys of Library Work.”

In my heart, I knew these weren’t quite good enough, but I ran them by a publicist pal just to be sure.

“You can do better,” she said.

But, alas, I couldn’t.

Titling has never my strong suit. Writing a publishable essay? I can do that! But coming up with an amazing title for that essay? Not so much. Thank God for my editors. For instance? Once when I handed in a humor piece with a humdrum title about a Florida woman who claimed to have undergone surgery to acquire a third breast, editor Deb Harkins quickly renamed it  “A Tale Of Three Titties.” How perfect is that?

This new collection would be my 13th humor book. And while I’d managed to come up with a title for my first book (Women’s Glib: A Collection Of Women’s Humor) myself, when I handed in the manuscript for the book that followed, I still had no idea what to call it. So my publisher held a meeting. “We need a good title for this book. It’s a  collection of cartoons by women about men,” the staff was told.  “Upbeat. Fun. A little snarky, but loving.”

Men Are From Detroit, Women Are From Paris? suggested one of the secretaries.


So it sometimes takes a village to name a new book. Thinking back on this, I decided to try something similar. I have a bunch of clever Facebook friends. Writers. Humorists. Columnists. Librarians. Maybe they could help me out?

I went on Facebook and asked my friends to help name my new book.  Suggestions poured in. Within 24 hours, I had some great titles to choose from:










“That’s more like it,“ enthused my publicist pal when I ran them by her.

Next? I turned it into a contest.  “HumorOutcasts Press is publishing a collection of my funny essays about library work,” I posted. “Which of these proposed titles do you like best?”

I gave them a day to respond. The clear winner?

Our Bodies, Our Shelves suggested by writer Risa Nye.

I knew that Risa’s title was the perfect choice when I revealed it to my writing group — a dozen middle-aged writers around a table — and they burst out laughing.

Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor has been out for three months now and is selling steadily. I‘m sure that its fun, zippy title is part of its success. (Thanks, Risa!) Even the editors of the longstanding women’s health book franchise “Our Bodies, Ourselves”  tweeted that when they first heard the title, they were amused.

I hope to be able to come up with a brilliant title for my next humor book. But if I can’t?  I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.

— Roz Warren

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

Rotisserie chicken devours
rotisserie baseball

Charles HartleyThe other night I came home from a long day being Sammy Sportface. My wife told me she left me for dinner a full-bodied rotisserie chicken.

A question hit me: Why do they call it rotisserie chicken? It sounds like chicken for Minor League baseball players, those who aren’t good enough to make it to the pros. The pros eat T-Bone steak and get all the A1 Sauce they want. The Minor Leaguers don’t get A1 sauce for their chicken.

Money devours everyone.

For decades I have been puzzled about the meaning of the word rotisserie. It conjures images of flowers. I thought: A rotisserie chicken sounds like a petunia chicken. This was senseless. Many things don’t make sense. Sammy Sportface is a living example.

Here’s one theory for us to weigh: Maybe petunia seeds spawn both flowers and chickens. Given nature’s history dating back hundreds of millions of years, this is plausible. Surely you know that a caterpillar, unless it gets stepped on while a caterpillar, gets busy with metamorphosis and becomes a butterfly.

Of all of life’s mysteries, there is none greater than how and why a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. It would be reasonable for a caterpillar to transmogrify into a snake because they are both slithery and wet. This would be natural evolution at work. But a caterpillar turning into a butterfly is like a poodle plunging into metamorphosis and becoming a seagull.

A rotisserie chicken looks like any other chicken. Sporting legs and a plump abdomen, it reminds you of Thanksgiving when you stare at the full body of a turkey. But it’s smaller. If there are rotisserie turkeys, Instagram me a color photo. I’ll share it with my family next Thanksgiving.

While eating the flowery chicken, I thought of how confusing life is. This is prime example: Years ago I heard of something called rotisserie baseball. The name turned me off. Baseball is baseball and calling it something else bastardized America’s game.

I have never viewed myself as a pansy. Rather, I fancy myself an All-Pro NFL tight end — picture Rob Gronkowski — who transitions into sports blogging ignominiously. Rotisserie baseball sounds bush league. Even now I don’t know what it is.

My suspicion is it’s a kissing cousin of fantasy football. Both are stale creamed corn laced with fungus.

Sammy Sportface doesn’t live in the world of fantasy. He believes only one thing is true: By running through the streets of Philadelphia at 4 a.m, after drinking a glass of raw eggs, Rocky Balboa became the heavyweight champion of the world.

What’s real is real.

Fantasy is for fatuous flamingoes. Rotisserie baseball is a rotten rhododendron.

We all need to deal with the truth, not wish for what could be. Like Halfway Hilarity, the creation of rotisserie baseball and fantasy football have turned out to be bad ideas that should be heaved onto the scrap heap of American failures.

Everything you do has an opportunity cost. You can learn more about this concept in a college economics class. In that same class you would learn that rotisserie baseball has a flawed business model, which is that it is stupid. Making matters worse, it has a public relations problem: Sammy Sportface perceives it to be a low-rent chicken baseball league. When you confuse the public, especially Sammy, your business is in trouble.

Rotisserie baseball suffers from the same problem.

“The word rotisserie should be struck from the English language,” said Sammy Sportface this morning during his weekly call with his rotisserie league pals. “Just like the name Sammy Sportface, rotisserie doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t resonate. It has to go. Sammy says so.”

— 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.

Not remotely wrong

Steve EskewAfter years of intense self-improvement, I can proudly claim that only about nine major vices dominate my life, one of which is watching too much TV. Using the boob tube as a break from work-related writing and reading, it chiefly functions to distract my naughty but nimble noggin.

The prob? I consider most TV programs to be a dreary bore and my thoughts float away. Thus, my distractor distracts me. And that’s sooo distressing.

I’ve often referred to my mind (affectionately) as The Wayward Wanderer. Thanks to TV and the dullness it induces, I’ve lost my train of thought dozens of times. Even more times than I’ve lost the same 10 pounds. It’s just that most entertainment shows move at a tortoise pace.

As for newscasts, they rate as sacred in our house. Forever obsessed with a need for information about the world around me, I hate missing the slightest informative moments. And, as fate would have it, in recent years, mod tech has blessed me with a new hero: Mr. Anthony Wood, the person who invented the DVR.

Before the advent of the DVR, damn near each individual news item would throw me into deeep thoughts, intense speculations or insane ragings. Consequently, I would miss many of the subsequent news stories of a single newscast. During such rantings, my bristling brain used to speed off on a journey of its own, over-analyzing each item. I’d be grunting, grumbling, sometimes gnashing and grinding my teeth or laughing maniacally at something a politician was quoted as saying. Then, I would be furious with myself for having missed most of the other items of interest.

Nowadays, thanks to Mr. Wood and the DVR, I can pause, rant and rewind. In short, I can obsess to my heart’s content. The downside? Listening to a half-hour newscast can take me upwards of an hour and a half. Good thing I’ve got more time than money.

I even find the entertainment fare itself more tolerable with the aid of a DVR. In addition to flashing past the commercials of my recorded programs, I can pause and rewind even live shows and replay them — as many times as it takes for my meandering mind to grasp a particular point.

Here’s my conundrum: I review plays in New York and nowadays, as I sit with pen and pad poised, looking as much the dignified critic as I can muster up, I constantly catch myself idiotically reaching for a nonexistent DVR remote, fruitlessly intending to rewind a live stage performance in order to grasp a playwright’s point or simply rehear what some mush-mouthed actor has stated.

Instantly it sinks into my brainpan that a DVR is useless during a live stage performance. (Ma didn’t raise no dumb kids). However, I sometimes can’t help daydreaming about how sweet of a treat it would be if Anthony Wood could expand his invention of the DVR to include not only live stage shows but everyday activities. I say, if you’re going to invent something, go all the way.

I realize that my idea is far from original. Collective thought (and movies) have surely considered the advantage of a 3-D LIVE DVR remote that would “mute” various people, put others on “pause” or surf “channels” containing subway, bus or airplane passengers until you found just the right crowd to ride with.

Oy! A startling thought just crossed my cranium: have I had my head in my ranting sandbox while such a device has actually come into use? Did I miss that news item? Have I myself unwittingly been paused, rewound, muted? Has someone changed channels on the subway to avoid me?

I should just throw in the tech towel. What with my earlier piece weeks ago on the horrors of closed captioning and now with the DVR issue, I should probably give up on these newfangled TV features altogether and revert back to using the radio.

I wonder if Fibber McGee and Molly is still being broadcast.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website,

Reflections of Erma