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Show them the money

I have very little influence, even in my own home, and an endorsement from me is usually the kiss of death. But that has not stopped me from trying to get raises for other people, which is a pretty nice gesture considering I can’t get one for myself.

My campaign to improve the professional lives of folks I barely know began recently when I noticed that the receipts I get at supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices, health centers, car dealerships and other such places include surveys I am asked to fill out so I can let management know what I think of the service and if the employees who help me deserve commendations, promotions or, ultimately, raises.

Whenever I go to a store to buy a toothbrush or a box of Twinkies, which is why I need the toothbrush, I am handed a receipt long enough to encircle the Green Bay Packers.

On this receipt are coupons for things I don’t need, such as feminine hygiene products, and at the end is a survey I have to go online to fill out, a process that often takes longer than the shopping experience itself.

I wondered: Does putting in a good word for someone actually help?

“We do look at the surveys,” said Fredy, a supervisor at the post office branch near my house. “Unfortunately, I can’t give the employees raises. I can’t even give myself a raise.”

Jeffrey, who works behind the counter, said of Fredy, “He comes from a poor family. When they named him, they could only afford one D.”

“Now you’ll never get a raise,” Fredy said.

“The first time I saw one of those long receipts,” Jeffrey told me, “I thought, ‘Another tree has fallen.’ But if you want to fill out the survey, be my guest. Just watch out for paper cuts.”

I went home, got online and gave Jeffrey a glowing review. When I went back a week later, I asked him if it did any good.

“Well,” he said, “I’m still here. I don’t know whether to thank you or not.”

At the pharmacy, Christina, the morning shift supervisor, said that even if she gets the highest marks on a survey, she can’t get a raise.

“I’m capped,” she explained.

“You’re not wearing a cap,” I pointed out. “And you deserve a raise.”

“I do,” Christina agreed. “Even my boss said so.”

“Then what good are the surveys?” I asked.

Said Christina, “That’s the $64,000 question.”

“Sixty-four thousand bucks would be a nice raise,” I said.

“It would put me in a higher tax bracket,” Christina noted. “Not that I would complain.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I told her.

“Thanks,” she said. “Just be sure to spell my name right. I don’t want anybody else to get the money.”

One person who definitely deserves a raise is Tony, the service adviser at the dealership where I take my car for service.

“Whatever you’re getting paid, it’s not enough,” I told him.

“My boss would probably say that I’m lucky I get paid at all,” Tony retorted.

“Nonsense,” I said. “You’re the best.”

“I sure have you fooled,” Tony said. “But go ahead and take the survey. If I still have a job, it’ll be a miracle.”

I gave Tony the highest marks, along with a gushing comment. The next day, I got an email from his boss, who assured me that Tony is still working there and agreed that he is, indeed, terrific. No word, however, on whether he’ll get a raise.

Since then, I have filled out surveys for my dermatologist, the woman who helped me with a computer problem and the guy who replaced my cracked windshield. All, I trust, remain employed.

One person I haven’t put in a good word for is myself.

“If there were a survey for what you do,” my boss said, “do you think you’d get a raise?”

“I’d probably end up owing you money,” I said.

“Good,” he said. “I could use a raise. Working with you, I deserve one.”

— Jerry Zezima

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

If your life sucks, blame the world

If your life sucks, blame somebody — anybody — besides yourself.

If you’re not happy, that’s not on you. It’s everybody else who sucks. They caused it. If you’re lonely, it’s because nobody understands you. You are beautiful and worthy of being loved. People just don’t know how to love you for some reason. That’s on them.

If you are bad at your job, it’s because your boss is a jerk and incompetent. He’s an aardvark. If you don’t get dates, it’s not because of your personality or your body odor or your fungus-infested toes. It’s that no one appreciates how free-winded and physically organic you are. Organic is almost as cool as you.

If you don’t have much money, it’s because the free market doesn’t value the right things and is too ensnarled in self-interest and shallow pursuits. It’s not that what you offer to the world is not wanted by the world. If you have a stomach ache, the supermarket messed up. Their food wasn’t worthy of being ingested into your innards.

If the last time you watched TV you didn’t find anything interesting to watch, it’s because TV programmers are dolts. They are incapable of create compelling content. It’s not because you’re an inane and pathetic person. You have plenty of interests that are not being addressed nor fulfilled nor contemplated by anyone else besides you. Cultivate interests that no one else has.

If you want to go to dinner at a restaurant but you don’t feeling like driving there, it’s not because you’re lazy. It’s because the raunchy restaurant didn’t locate itself close enough to where you live. Chalk it up to poor planning on their part. They didn’t think through your demographic well enough. Stupid people they are. They need to target you better and deliver a more personalized experience or you will continue to shun them. And that’s their loss. Without you they can’t survive.

If you didn’t graduate from college, it’s because the professors weren’t provocative enough and the school’s curriculum was small-minded. They lacked enlightenment and standing. If you have a fat stomach, blame the food people who cram it with sugar and lard. If you don’t like what you read on Erma Bombeck’s web site, it’s because the writers and editors lack talent. It’s not because you don’t understand tomfoolery and deception.

If you don’t like root beer, that’s on you. Everybody likes root beer.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to

The incredible shrinking columnist

No matter how well you think you’ve prepared for catastrophe, the actual event can still catch you off guard, like a flooding creek overflowing your sandbag barrier.

At my last doctor’s visit the nurse said, “Step up on the scale. The doctor wants to check your height and weight.”

My weight was within a pound of my morning weight measured on my bathroom scale. But my height? Had she read my measurement  correctly? Had I misheard her? I was too shocked to question her.

I’ve gone through life at five foot seven inches. Says so on my passport and driver’s license. Though I know from reading that elderly people shrink a bit. My Aunt Irene was visual proof of that. The last time I saw her, she was 93 and her silver curls hardly reached my biceps as we stood side by side for a departure photo.

When the nurse declared my height to be five foot three inches, I couldn’t believe it.

Where had the four inches gone and when did they go?

Thinking back, I’d been noticing how much closer my chin seemed to be to my oatmeal bowl each breakfast. Resting my forearms on the table is awkward; my shoulders hunch to fit in. I even avoid sitting at my desk — preferring the kitchen table — because it, too, has risen until I need a two inch thick cushion to give me a comfortable perspective on what I’m writing.

This phenomenon has me resembling Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann on Rowan and Martin. Pretending to be “five years old and a little bit more,” Tomlin squirmed about in an oversized wooden porch rocker, her legs straight out in front.

Plenty of markers over recent months should have tipped me off to my diminishing height: The way I must hitch the truck seat forward after one of the kids has driven it; or the dashboard rising until I can scarcely peek over the steering wheel just as comedians stereotypically ridicule little old lady drivers.

My grandchildren have grown taller. Where once I could look over their heads as we hugged, now I find myself gazing past their ears. In the kitchen I’ve moved often-used cups and plates to a lower shelf. In the basement I don’t stack firewood as high as I did other summers.

Months ago my belly button vanished in cascading rolls of skin somewhat like a collapsing cup hikers pack on field trips, while my hips have sprawled lending me the squat stable silhouette of a chess piece.

Much as I lament my shrinking stature, losing four inches has a few advantages. With my plate closer to my mouth there’s less distance over which to dribble food. A standard baby bib will do sidelining the jeweler’s apron I had been tying on at meals.

Mini skirts, had any ever taken up space in my closet, could now replace cocktail gowns.

Far from slacks being too short, I can roll up the cuffs like Huckleberry Finn preparing to wade the crick for crawdads. After months of wear, I’ll be able to trim off several inches for color-matched fabric to reinforce threadbare seams.

If I were a gardener, I’d be in closer proximity for smelling the roses or identifying insects among the cabbages, and have to bend less to hoe weeds.

For years I’ve been expecting fading eyesight, aching joints, thinning hair. But never the loss of four inches.

— Claudette Sandecki

Claudette Sandecki began as a writer by penning letters to the editor of various newspapers. In 1988, she was invited to write a weekly column, “Through Bifocals,” for The Terrace Standard in Terrace, British Columbia. She aspires “to write funny like David Sedaris or Dave Barry.”

My near-death encounter with foam packing chips!

Full disclosure.

For my personal safety I have been admitted to “an institution.”

24 hours-a-day trained caregivers are watching over me on enough television screens to outfit a Buffalo Wild Wings sports bar restaurant. Oh, did I say my room is padded? Well sort of. … But it’s not the walls that are padded. IT’S ME!!

I am covered — head to toe —in itty-bitty, statically-charged foam packing chips!

There are soooo many of these damn foam chips all over my body that Trump would send his spokesperson out to say there are at least a gazillion!

There’s BREAKING NEWS on CNN. Wolf Blitzer is in the Situation Room showing a photograph of me. I look like the abominable snowman or the Michelin tire mascot.

Wolf says, “This guy looks like a lunatic!” Immediately, the scroll across the bottom of the television screen reads, ‘Middle age man attacked by foam packing chips almost suffocates!’

But wait…

Before you read about what happened in one of those magazines at the supermarket checkout — with outrageous headlines like “Man Opens Kitchen Cupboard & Survives Avalanche of Tupperware Containers” — here’s my side of the story.

The note stuck on our front door said, ‘We attempted to deliver a parcel today.’

You know what was coming: “It sucks to be you because you must call our customer service center in India and make arrangements within 20 minutes of reading this notice, or the tracking number assigned to your parcel will be permanently wiped from our records.”

I know. About now you’re saying, “Gary don’t go get the parcel. Don’t do it!”

First mistake: I got the parcel.

Back at home I read the shipping label: “Weight: 3 ounces.” Ahhh, this explains why they used a cardboard shipping box the size of a commercial walk-in restaurant freezer to ship something the size of a deck of playing cards!

One look and I knew right away that to open the box would require a German-engineered, finger-severing knife. Well at least the knife in my fishing tackle box.

It’s an hour later. The box was wrapped in so much of that industrial-strength packing tape that I called the White House.

“Yes I’d like to speak with President Trump. Or maybe Kellyanne Conway, the decision maker. Instead of building a fence, tell him I’ve got enough sticky packing tape to seal the entire 2,000 mile Mexican border!”

You know where this is going.

Second mistake: I opened the box. Then I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath and very slowly reached in.

The last thing I remember was that I was up to my elbows fishing around trying to locate the parcel.

Then it happened! All I can say it that it was like a tactical ballistic scud missile attack.

Foam packing chips drifted down through the air. Unfortunately, the ceiling fan was on. The living room soon looked like a monster lake-effect snowstorm coming in off Lake Ontario burying Buffalo.

I didn’t know what to do. I remember saying to myself, “Gary, don’t panic!”

So I did what anybody who survived a horrific explosion in their living room: I grabbed my iPhone and texted “OMG!” Then I uploaded a video to iTunes and of course checked my Kardashian Twitter feed.

Next, I dashed outside and threw myself to the ground. I began rolling violently trying to get those millions of foam packing chips off my body. I’d use my finger to flick them from my chest only to have them reattach on my head! White foam chips were ALL OVER ME!

Soon the “authorities'”arrived.

“Neighbors have reported sighting a strange individual, said he looks like an albino version of the Philly Fanatic. They say he’s rolling all over the ground, sort of like he’s impersonating Joe Cocker spastically singing, ‘With A Little Help From My Friends.'”

Back at “the institution,” I’ve got time on my hands. Time to think.

I’ve got it! Get me the White House on the phone again.

“Yes. I have a suggestion for President Trump regarding the fence he wants to build to secure the border. I’ve got a better idea! Spread truckloads of foam packing chips along the border. Illegal immigrants and drug runners wouldn’t dare walk through this stuff!”

— Gary Chalk

Gary Chalk has been described as “Canada’s Dave Barry.” His weekly laugh-out-loud column “Living Retired” pokes fun at Baby Boomers’ lives — everything from middle age men wearing relax-fit jeans and nasal strips to women’s decorator pillows in the bedroom to couples parallel parking their Winnebago. Each Monday thousands of people throughout North America begin their week with a chuckle with his humorous columns.

We blew our dining budget, but this is what we learned

During our last vacation, Patrick and I stayed home because our travel budget was in the red. Besides, we don’t enjoy missed flights. Or sunburns. Or saltwater on our faces. Oh wait, those are tears.

Anyway, on the first night of our “staycation,” we pondered what to have for dinner. I suggested keeping it simple with a sleeve of Ritz crackers, cheddar cheese, some grapes on the verge of rotting, and a bottle of wine.

There was only one problem. We had no wine.

“Somebody’s been drinking MY wine,” I growled.

So we decided to go out. We went to a classy restaurant, but in keeping with my idea of simplicity and being true to our frugality vow, we decided to limit our order to appetizers and one drink.

What evolved from our commitment to a night of thrifty dining was an epiphany of ‘do’s and don’ts.’

Don’t settle for a high top table. As my legs dangled from a giant stool, I bellowed, “This chair is much too big!” After flailing my arms and creating a commotion, a server noticed my agitation and offered us a seat on a comfy couch near the gas fireplace. Ahhh, it was just right. And there was no extra charge.

Don’t order a menu item that includes the word ‘artisan.’ We selected an ‘artisan cheese tray’ which arrived on a rough-hewn board and included fashionable slices and chunks of cultured cheese, along with a few olives, some fig jam, and four lonely crackers. Price $19.

Don’t order extra crackers. We powered through the crackers in a cholesterol-laden heartbeat and had a mountain of cheese left, so we tapped our knives on our glasses until our server noticed and graciously agreed to bring us more. He impressed us when he plunked down eight crackers for our crunching pleasure. The bill impressed us more when we saw that our crispy carbs had a $3.50 price tag.

Don’t order a “sampler.” The bruschetta sampler sounded intriguing but disappointed us when a miniature bread trio with three different toppings arrived whistling a $14 tune.

Don’t order a mixed drink. I ordered a margarita, which was mostly ice, served in a small highball glass. There may have been a splash of tequila in it, but without doing a chemical analysis, I can’t say for sure. One thing is certain; it wasn’t worth $12.

Do take wet wipes with you. Unbeknownst to us the artisan cheese tray composed entirely of finger foods had honey drizzled over everything, so from the first bite, we had impossibly sticky hands. At one point Patrick got too clingy, and we had to march into the non-coed bathroom looking like Siamese twins to dunk my head under water to extract his syrupy hand from my hair.

Do ignore the astonished looks from other diners. You can expect bewildered glances from other patrons when you return to your table with wet, stringy hair carrying a stockpile of paper towels. If you must, a well-placed glare should inhibit snickering.

Don’t say I told you so when Patrick looks at the $71.83 tab and says, “I guess we could have gone to Hannaford and bought a $9 bottle of wine, couldn’t we?”

Do tell everyone who asked you where you went on your vacation that you went to the Ritz to eat crackers. But it was tacky.

— Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk, but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She blogs at, where she skims over important topics, like her love affair with white potatoes and why she saves user manuals.


Talk to yourself
It’s good for you!

I talk to myself. All the time. Every day.

I simply cannot think silently. I have tried to stop by following the advice in “Stop talking to yourself “articles. No dice.

I read an article recently called “How to Stop Talking to Yourself” on The first question posed was, “Is that you speaking or is it some other voice?”

“No, you idiot, it’s my crazy Aunt Harriet, back from the dead!”

The second question was, “Do you annoy your fellow human beings?”

“Well, of course. But what has that got to do with me talking to myself?”

Truth is, I have had comments about my chattering on and on in my own voice. A lady I worked with once said, “I keep thinking you are talking to me. It’s distracting.” Another told me at my retirement party she looked forward to not ever again hearing the low hum from the adjoining office.

But now let’s get serious.  There are benefits to talking to yourself.  I want you self-talkers out there to be aware of the following perks, put forth by the “experts.” You can’t go wrong with the “experts,” you know. (I may have taken some license with a few of these.)

 Ten Perks of Self-Talk

1. You can get the loving attention you may not get from busy and distracted loved ones. Looking in the mirror,  you can say out loud as affirmation, “Honey, you look so wonderful today. So bright. So beautiful.”

2. You can connect with a higher intelligence — to yourself and to your dog, you can say, “Let’s leave these morons behind, and create our own space travel.”

3. You can debate out loud and you will always win.

You One: “Well, I think Britney Spears is highly overrated.”
You Two: “On the contrary, I believe you need to look at her as a product of current cultural trends.”
You One: “Hogwash.”
You One and You Two: “I win.”

4. You can find lost things faster by repeating the lost item out loud. (Research has proven this.)

“Key, keys, keys. Diaphragm, Diaphragm. Diaphragm.”

5.  You may find speaking out loud will help your memory in other vital situations. “What’s my name? Where do I live? Where have I left my child? (Who knows?)”

6. You can discuss your stress, thus alleviating it. “Now let’s calm down, darlin’.  No need to attack your neighbor’s Ficus tree just because he plays that f—king trumpet night and day. Think loving thoughts. Bless your neighbor. (How did that spear get into my hand and hurt that poor little Ficus tree?)”

7. You can count your blessings. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

8. If you’re single and don’t want to be, you can fantasize a solution. “Today, I will imagine myself on a tropical island holding a Piña Colada, staring at the waves, and there appears a rich plantation owner saying he can’t live without me at his side. And he must have me redecorate his million-dollar hideaway on the beach.” After much thought out loud: “No, better yet, I imagine myself all alone in a million-dollar beach house, warding off unfaithful plantation owners with a club. (The Pina Colada stays.)”

9. You can prioritize aloud, stay on track and get organized:

“Let’s see. Today, I take a shower, get dressed, walk the dog, go to the market, write a blog post.”
“Let’s see. Today, I take a shower, get dressed, walk the dog, go to the market, write a blog post.”
“Let’s see. Today, I take a shower, get dressed, walk the dog, go to the market, write a blog post.” (Repetition is essential if you’re over 50.)

10.Y ou can promise yourself anything. Speaking aloud affirms your dreams. “No, no, not Arpege. I deserve more. I will win the lottery.  All I need is $500,000 for the condo in Florida, travel money for Spain or Montevideo, 15 pairs of cute shoes, and a lifetime income so I never, ever have to sit in a cubicle again.”

— Kaye Curren

Kaye Curren has returned to writing after 30 years of raising two husbands, two children, two teenage stepchildren, three horses, umpteen dogs and cats, and several non-speaking parakeets. She used to write computer manuals but now writes humor essays, human interest stories and memoir. Her guest posts are recently featured on,, and Kaye recently had the fun of judging the Beyond Your Blog Humor Essay Contest. Find her musings on her website/blog at

Updates on 19 different sports

Following are updates on 19 sports: Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA, NHL, College Football, Men’s College Basketball, WNBA, Golf, Tennis, Boxing, Horse Racing, Cycling, Track and Field, Cricket, Rugby, Olympics, Figure Skating, Auto Racing, and CrossFit.

Major League Baseball

The league is grasping for another scandal such as steroids to bring people back to the ballparks and the MLB Network. The league has come to sheepishly admit that its heyday occurred when the steroids era was in full bloom, when Ryan Braun was lying about taking steroids on national TV, when Barry Bonds blew his head up to gargantuan size, and when Alex Rodriguez had the juice injected into his bottom and lied about it, just like “Saving Private Ryan.”

To generate more cash and make America’s pasttime more popular, the league is going to see if there’s a way to pretend it is testing players for steroids while not really doing so, because focus groups have taught them that lying and home runs are what is most alluring about the sport.

Robin Yount, a shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1970s and 80s, wore the number 19.


The big issue on the table is Rex Ryan. Fired as head coach of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, Ryan will be an analyst for ESPN this fall. The concern is what Ryan will say on the air and whether he will be liked by viewers. Although oozing with charisma, he has only proven so far that he doesn’t win all that much and says lots of embarrassing things such as that he has a  fetish for women’s feet. Will he mention the feet on the air? Rex will say some things that will be on the edge and, within two years, will be fired by ESPN.

The good news is the Jets will be looking to hire a new coach because they will have fired their current coach, whose name has already been forgotten. Rex will be available and the Jets could use his expertise to lose more football games. He will trade for Mark Sanchize to be his quarterback again, and we will get to the see the re-enactment of the Butt Fumble.


A lanky dude from Sweden was selected in the first round of the NBA draft.  Not since Bjorn Borg, winner of five Wimbledon and French Open tennis titles, has Sweden produced such a major sports star except in the speed skating and Nordic Combined cross country skiing events at the past 10 Winter Olympics. The baller’s name is Kari or he has blonde hair like Blondie, a yesteryear rock singer. Would someone please write a sports blog explaining why a disproportionately high percentage of Swedish people sport blonde hair? In that blog it would awesome to include 19 pictures of Swedish super models. Blondes preferred, though we’ll take brunettes as long as they’re Swedes.


The NHL playoffs may or may not be over. Does anyone know?

College Football

The big story to watch in college football right now is how angry Alabama coach Nick Saban will be as his team opens training camp in a few weeks. Satan admitted the loss by his team to Clemson in the national title game last season is something he will never get over. This is his issue, but somehow he’s going to make it our issue.

Men’s College Basketball

Had Gordon Hayward made that half-court shot to beat Duke in the national title game several years ago, the play would be remembered as the most dramatic clutch shot in college basketball history, the biggest upset in the title game, and the best sports story the sport, arguably any sport, has ever seen. But he missed. The ball hit the backboard, bounced off the rim and didn’t go in. Duke won. The rest of us lost. College basketball has never recovered.


The season gets started soon. There is one player who has scored more points, about 19,000, than any woman in WNBA history. Her name is impossible to spell: Donna Turasi. Or is it Tsurasi? Misspellings aside, the important thing to know about the upcoming WNBA season is that the games are going to be covered by NGSCSports on a case-by-case basis.


Turns out Rickey Fowler has more pastel-colored golf outfits than wins in major golf tournaments. A lot more, about 19 in fact. Little Ricky had a shot to win last week’s U.S. Open — his first ever — but faded on the last day to finish several strokes back. The winner was Brooks Koepka, winner of his first major. Koepka now has a lot of money to spend on pastel-colored golf outfits and will be a favorite to win the British Open and PGA Tournament this summer.


So far this year the best sports T-shirt reads, “Roger That.” It’s worn by fans of Roger Federer, winner of some 19 major tennis titles than anyone. Fed is now gearing up to win Wimbledon for theumpteenth time. Problem is he will have to beat Raphael Nadal, who has beaten Roger umpteen times. Roger That.


The most important thing to happen in boxing transpired in the 1970s when southpaw Rocky Balboa went the distance against Apollo Creed in the Philadelphia Spectrum in the bout to determine the heavyweight champion of the world. Many didn’t give the underdog a chance. But The Italian Stallion proved to be much tougher than Creed and the population at large expected. Yo Adrian.

Horse Racing

There was a dopey TV show in the 1970s called “Mr. Ed.” It was about a man who owned a talking horse. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.


It’s not about the bike. It’s about Lance Armstrong. Sheryl Crow is a babe.

Track and Field

The one thing you have to wonder about is why in the track and field steeplechase race the runners have to jump over a hurdle and then step in a puddle of water. Their shoes and socks moisten. Running after that is unpleasant and ignites foot fungus.


Cricket is pretty much hai lai (spell checker alert). You can watch men play cricket in London and hai lai south Florida. Players peak at the sport at around age 19. You can do yoga anywhere.


It’s never been clear to most people how rugby differs from Australian Rules Football. My friend Jim knows. Call him. I knew him when he was 19.


The only Olympics story on our minds is whether Michael Phelps will make another comeback to win more gold medals. That and whether Ryan Lochte will also.

Figure Skating

Ice dancing is bush.

Auto Racing

The entire auto racing industry is disconcerted about the metrics that show that the movie “Talladega Nights” is more popular than the sport itself. The movie was a fake story about the ridiculousness of the sport’s culture and fans. Gentlemen, rev your engines. You, too, Danica Patrick. NASCAR is the same thing as IndyCar.


This summer there will be 19,000 people you don’t know and never will participating in various CrossFit events across this country.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to

Coffee in all its glory

Coffee is not a mere beverage to be swilled like beer.

It must be savored. Drinking coffee is a tradition, an experience, an event. For some it is a ticket to mellow, for others a temporary high. I love coffee. When my kids were younger and wanted something very badly, they’d say, “Pretty please, with coffee on top!”

In a stunning reversal, I’ve had to switch to decaf. It’s part of the protocol for those of us lucky enough to suffer from chronic headaches. It was never clear to me that caffeine affected my tender cranium, but I made the sacrifice. My conversion was less traumatic than I expected. Once, back in the day, I was asked by a guest at our home if the coffee I was serving was decaf. I replied, “What’s that?” Decaf and I have come a long way.

Remember when Sanka was the only alternative to caffeinated coffee? Does anyone still drink the stuff, or am I being condescending here? We can thank a team of researchers led by Ludwig Roselius in Bremen, Germany, in 1903 for the invention of decaf. Sanka (from the French, sans caféine — without caffeine) poured its way to the U.S. around 1909–10. For me Sanka evokes a sense of nostalgia. I recall my parents’ generation drinking it in the old days, before French press coffee makers and Keurigs.

As for the never-ending Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Starbucks debate, it can be seen as a stand-in for class warfare. The upper crust is assumed to favor Starbucks, and the folks that sit in the bleachers or drive American cars prefer Dunkin.’ After careful research I can say that each has its strengths and weaknesses. I tend toward Starbucks first, then Dunkin.’ Honeydew Donuts wins third place among the bigger chains in Greater Boston. (There might be other regional coffee giants I’m not aware of.) Starbucks’ quality is consistent. Dunkin’ is somewhat less so, varying from store to store or drive-thru window to drive-thru window. In Dunkin’s favor there are far more DD drive-thrus than Starbucks. I’ve actually seen two Starbucks drive-thrus. Something about them doesn’t feel right. Of course Starbucks pastries are good, but expensive. A cinnamon chip scone now and then is a treat. DD and HD treats are less expensive, and, I suppose to some, déclassé. DD’s coffee cake muffins are pretty good, though.

As a coffee aficionado, I’ve felt inspired to develop a coffee ceremony in the tradition of the Japanese tea ceremony. The tea ceremony, which dates back to the 8th century, represents Zen precepts of the harmony of nature and self-cultivation. A Chinese Buddhist priest wrote a book on the proper way to prepare tea, which influences the tea ceremony to this day. The book is called Cha Ching (no kidding!). Preparing for a tea ceremony is hard work: choosing a theme, preparing flowers and food, extreme cleaning and other ritual requirements. Ethiopians actually have a coffee ceremony, which involves washing, de-husking, grinding and roasting coffee beans. Lovely, I’m sure, but not what I had in mind.

As I envision it, my modern coffee ceremony reflects the 21st century concept: Chill. Guests are invited to sit in comfortable chairs around a coffee table. Cell phones are deposited in a specially designed container near the front door. Shoes may be removed. No humans under 20 are permitted. Well-behaved pets are. Coffee is served in fine china, unless the hostess prefers paper goods. Caffeinated coffee and decaf are present. Cakes, donuts, scones and bagels are served, none baked by the hostess. On a nearby side table is a choice of sweeteners, such as sugar, Sweet’N Low and Splenda, along with cream, half and half, and milk (whole, 2%, skim and soy) to meet the tastes and needs of all guests.

The ceremony opens with the hostess intoning, “Unwind. Take it easy. Decompress.” Conversation centers on celebrity gossip, sales at area or on-line clothing stores, plans for vacation as well as favorite books, movies and TV shows. Soothing music plays in the background. The ceremony strives for tasty food and mellow mood — civilized, low maintenance, lowered blood pressure. Drink, eat, chat, breathe, repeat.

To quote Louisa May Alcott, “I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

— Ann Green

Ann Green is a freelance writer, editor, PR consultant and tutor.

Reflections of Erma