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Hernia! Hernia! Hernia!

Rachel KoenigA hernia is one of those conditions that I probably misunderstood as a child.

I had older male relatives that had suffered through one or two, and remember the recovery involving a sustained period of avoiding heavy lifting. I probably thought it had to do with your back. “Darling, don’t lift that suitcase — your hernia!” I had heard multiple women yell at their husbands. Perhaps I had confused it with sciatica — a common mistake I’m sure since they both end in ‘a’ and sound like Greek Mythology heroes. (Wasn’t Hernia the name of Zeus’ wife?)

The truth is actually more….gross. A hernia occurs when an organ or fatty tissue squeezes through a hole in your muscle wall in various places throughout your body. For a while, it might poke through on occasion without doing much harm (“Pardon me, is that a hernia in your abdomen, or are you just happy to see me?”), but if the organ or tissue pokes through far enough to get stuck in your muscle wall, it can become strangulated and lose blood flow and start to die, causing extreme pain and an emergency situation to be repaired.

I have recently become more of an expert on hernias since the diagnosis of my own several weeks ago; a diagnosis which dovetailed my 40th birthday, and which provided me a hearty handshake and introduction to middle age.  “Welcome,” said my hernia, “to the phase of your life where you eat high-fiber muffins, drink decaf green tea and start collecting a laundry list of embarrassing minor medical diagnoses. Enjoy your stay.”

The type of hernia that I had was an inguinal or groin, which most commonly affects men. This made me briefly question my femininity, especially upon relating the news to my ex-husband who charmingly questioned whether I had in fact grown a pair of testicles since we had divorced — a notion that no doubt would be relieving and satisfying to him.

Whether I was genetically prone to hernias or whether I had torn a muscle during pregnancy was a question I chose to answer by allowing the blame to fall squarely on the shoulders of my two children who had certainly ruined my body in other ways, as well.

When discussing treatment options with my surgeon, he informed me that I could repair the hernia with surgery right away or “wait for a while” but the idea of greeting my naked self each morning with an odd lump under my skin that I now knew was a piece of my intestines poking out of my groin convinced me to schedule the operation. Because….yuck.

The surgery was scheduled for late in the afternoon, but I was advised to arrive two hours early in order to sit in the waiting room for an extended period of time while I turned the pages of a tattered People magazine from several months ago and observed an assortment of my co-patriot patients in various stages of anxiety and apprehension, straining to hear the news on the wall-mounted flat screen TVs that were “turned down in consideration of others.”

My husband and two boys accompanied me to the hospital where I was given a unique patient number that could be tracked on a monitor on the wall of the waiting room. Depending on the color of the bar that was labeled with my number, my family could follow my progress. A yellow bar meant “Just Arrived.” A green bar meant “In Procedure” and a blue bar indicated I was “In Recovery.”  I was comforted by the fact that there was no black bar, which likely could have meant “On the Way to the Morgue.”

Once the waiting in the waiting room was done, I was led back to the “pre-op” or staging area, where I was permitted to wait some more, this time dressed in a flimsy hospital gown that opened in the back. The fact that my intended surgery site was on the front didn’t seem to bother anyone.

I was invited to lay in a bed with wheels behind a half closed curtain as an assembly line of doctors and nurses marched in and out, each quizzing me on my name and birth date to the point where I began making mistakes in my anxiousness. I was told my surgery would begin in an hour. The fact that there was nothing to do but lay there and imagine multiple scenarios of surgical mistakes or accidents gave me plenty of time to dwell on every smell, every noise and every person who walked through. The laughing nurses down the hall. The computers set up at each bay with the words “Authorized Use Only” in an ominous and continuous scroll on the screens. I looked across the hall to the curtained room there and the woman lying in a very similar state to my own. “What are YOU in for?” I wanted to call, but that seemed inappropriate. I thought about asking for a magazine, as I noticed a rack of more old People’s on the wall, but then I started thinking about how many other patients with unknown diseases may have touched them and changed my mind.

Eventually I was asked to denote the side of my body that had the hernia with a purple marker. This decidedly low tech approach to ensure my doctor didn’t open me up on the wrong side did nothing to ease my mind.

As I watched the ink spread out on my skin, I began to panic it would disappear by the time I was wheeled into the operating room, where I would be sedated and unable to confirm which side to repair. Perhaps the doctors would open me up on the wrong side, realize their mistake, hastily change course and hope I didn’t notice post-op. I had just gotten to the lawsuit settlement numbers in my malpractice fantasy when the anesthesia must have kicked in, because I remember nothing until I woke up in recovery, with both my hernia and my faith in modern medicine repaired.

— Rachael Koenig

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

Who — or what — is killing America’s bloggers?

Con ChapmanIt’s 11:39 a.m. EDT and I’m about to tap out my first “blog post” of the day.  As I wait to connect to the Internet, I scan the front page of the Sunday New York Times when my eyes come to a screeching halt. 

The hairs stand up on the back of my neck — even though I went to the barber last week, and they’re shorter than normal.  A headline sets my heart racing — ”In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop.”

That’s right.  Someone — or something — is killing America’s bloggers.

It was in the Times — above the fold, as they say in the newspaper business. It had to be true, right?  I mean, it’s not like the Times is ever wrong, except for the Jayson Blair stuff, and the articles they ran about John McCain and a female lobbyist and the fake stories by Lynette Holloway on rap music and bilingual education. Say it ain’t so, Mr. Sulzberger!

No, this story is too big for them to fudge the facts, and it hits home for me and every other blogger in America today. Our lives are at stake. We’ve got to figure out who — or what — is killing America’s bloggers before it’s too late and we can’t redeem our promotional points on a pair of left-handed tweezers with compact mini-fridge at Brookstone.

I’ve got a few suspects in mind. Let me parade them before you, police line-up style.

Print journalists. Every time a blogger taps out a post in America today, he or she depresses the market for paid journalism. “Why should I pay you?” a modern-day Perry White yells at cub reporter Jimmy Olsen. “I can get content for free on the World Wide Web!”

As a result, wages for print reporters have sunk from poverty levels to sub-poverty levels, prompting concerned residents of Sudan to send relief packages filled with crunchy-style dung beetles to AP stringers across America. I know how hard it is to survive on news industry wages. As a reporter just out of college writing a story about welfare, I discovered that I qualified for food stamps — I was my own scoop!

Turtles. Don’t be so quick to count out our slow-footed “friends.” Box turtles are America’s most popular free pet, as kids bring them home after an afternoon of crawling through storm drains, give them inapt names like “Skippy,” then put them down in the basement and forget about them.

But turtles are most dangerous when they’re the most adorable. During the first five to six years of their lives, they are carnivorous — how do you think they catch the insects, snails, slugs, worms, fish, frogs, salamanders, rodents, snakes and birds they live on? Let me give you a hint — they don’t need a Segway.

La Cosa Nostra. Preposterous? Don’t kid yourself. With legalized casino gambling sweeping the country and increased recycling cutting into trash-hauling profits, the Mafia needs new sources of revenue every day. What better way than to muscle in on the lucrative business of blogging. Here is a redacted excerpt from an FBI surveillance tape recorded by a “wired” blogger at a WiFi hotspot in an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End:

BLOGGER: taptaptaptaptaptap . . .

TONY “THE ICEPICK” GRAVANO: Uh, Mr. Blogger, the boss read your post about Mafia nicknames.

BLOGGER: Great — would you mind commenting on it?  It will help put me on the front page.

GAETANO “JOEY POCKETS” DISALVO: Here’s his “comment.” It was stupid.

BLOGGER: Did he read the terms of service about “flaming?”

GRAVANO: He didn’t read no terms of service. He don’t need to.

DISALVO: We notice you got an on-line screen name — “Gerbil.”

BLOGGER: Yeah — cute, huh?

GRAVANO: How’d you like to wake up someday with the bloody head of a gerbil in your bed?

Aliens from the THX 1138 Spiral Galaxy. There’s been a conspiracy of silence about UFO sightings in America since the 1950s, long before the notion of blogging ever seized the American imagination and forced it to post its most intimate thoughts on a medium that can be accessed by highly evolved beings through mental telepathy.

Still, exponential growth — estimated at 50,000 new blogs per day — has resulted in a volume of useless information that threatens alien immune systems.  “Either shut down LOL Funny Schnauzers,” according to a message received at the International Space Station, “or we reverse Earth’s gravitational field using hand-held Quark ‘n Gluon Dustbusters.”

Angry Spouses. Criminologists say 70 percent of all murder victims knew their attackers, and bloggers represent particularly vulnerable targets. “Bloggers in pajamas can’t run,” says Merle Walker, head of the On-Line Crime Unit of the Missouri Highway Patrol. “They’re self-absorbed, sipping their coffee, glued to their screens, so they’re sitting ducks for angry spouses who sneak up and apply chokeholds from behind,” he notes. “When we survey the crime scene and read what the victims were about to post, the motive is clear.”

— Con Chapman

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

Lyin’ lipo

Rosie SorensonIn the past few weeks, we’ve been subjected to extreme depictions of female beauty as represented by Keira Knightely and Kim Kardashian. Everyone knows by now that Keira, fed up with being airbrushed by the media, posed topless and demanded no Photo-shopping. “Here I am,” she seemed to say. “Deal with it.” As if her slim figure represented some kind of controversy, some outlier of femininity that needed to be “dealt with.”

Next up, Kim Kardashian, whose butt occupies its own zip code. A glossy magazine featured a photo spread of her, oiled up, naked, and with God knows how much Photo-shopping applied.  The picture, she said, has made her feel more “confident.”  Oh, snap. No college degree for this girl, no siree!  Forget about that book learnin’ — pumped-up boobs and butt is all a girl needs to feel “confident.” Oh, double snap!

It’s not new to notice that our culture is ca-razy when it comes to women’s bodies — probably always has been, but it seems more perverted now than ever. Women are caught in a slip stream of sexism that vacuums up their thoughts, actions and self-esteem in a way that neatly bypasses men.  Men are not subjected to the daily, hourly hammering of their self-image. Just imagine if men had to bob and weave and skirt and deal with full frontal scrutiny, criticism, contempt and downright hatred. Their productivity would suffer accordingly.

As much as we rail, though, who among us is immune to all the images of surgically enhanced “beauty” that bombard us every day? Not me. I admit to feeling the inexorable pull toward Botoxlandia. Will I be able to resist?

Fifteen years ago, I decided to have liposuction. I simply had to do something about my saddlebags — you know, those wobbly bits protruding from your upper outer thighs? In retrospect, I realize they weren’t all that big, but I had lasered in on them like a heat-seeking missile, an enemy to be obliterated.

I scheduled a consult with a famous San Francisco dermatologist-cum-cosmetic surgeon who made frequent appearances on TV talk shows to tout his talents. He led me into a very cold exam room, ordered me to undress and to stand naked in front of a white screen. He whipped out his magic marker and drew lines around the places on my body he thought needed work. When he completed his drawings, he snapped a few Polaroids and handed me the photos of my front, back and sides. I glanced at them, horrified, at his handiwork. I’d been transformed into a trembling bovine, my body parts readied for market: here’s the sirloin, here’s the rack of ribs, here’s the rump roast.

I donned my clothes and hurried away from this over-eager scalpel of a man, my hand clutching the outrageous cost estimate for allowing him to have his way with my thighs, butt and tummy.  What I did instead was lose 15 pounds and exercise more. Now that I’m older and some fleshy stuff is relocating to a more southern hemisphere, I realize that if I had succumbed to his treatment plan, my lower body might be mistaken for that of a 10-year-old boy.

Several years after that humiliation, I learned the doc had lost his license because, during an eyeliner tattooing procedure, he stabbed a young woman in the eye and left her half-blind. Oh, triple snap.

But, have I learned my lesson? The siren call of Botox, with its easy-peasy promise of removing that pesky cross look of furrowed flesh between my eyes is getting louder and louder. I mean, who wants to look mad all the time when you’re not?

Stay tuned.

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the award-winning author of They Had Me at Meow: Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster HollowHer work has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. In 2007, she won an honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

Why MOMD doesn’t honk his horn

Cindi LabadieMOMD (Man Of My Dreams) and I were running errands a few months back and someone cut right in front of him. Being the man that he is, he patiently backed off. Being the woman I am, I encouraged him to give a little toot (of his horn, people) to let the person know that cutting someone off is a rude thing to do.

Enquiring minds and all, I asked him why he didn’t honk. He reminded me he disabled his horn a few months back. That takes us back even further in the story.

Months earlier we were out running errands, (yes, we are party animals), and we made a right turn. Simultaneously our horn honked and hubby waved. The person on the sidewalk waiting for the light to change looked at us and hesitantly waved back.

“Who was that?” I asked.

MOMD admitted that he had no idea. He informed me that when he made right turns, his horn would honk so he took the opportunity to be friendly.

This made me laugh.

EVERY time we turned it honked. Pedestrians looked at us with startled expressions.

People in the cars directly in front of us were not quite as amused. MOMD waved every time.

We then drove through a neighborhood that is known for prostitution.

A young woman was slowly crossing the street just as we made a right turn.

Yep.

It happened.

She looked up somewhat expectantly and began walking toward us. MOMD waved but drove away as fast as  possible. I kid you not when I tell you that the street was a dead end.

What does one do when one reaches the end of a dead end street?

One turns the car around.

So turn around we did, passing the same intersection, occupied by the same young woman. And OF COURSE to get to our destination we had to make a right turn.

I believe it was shortly after arriving home that day that the horn was disabled.

You can only have so much fun with a situation before feeling the need to move on to something even more exciting.

Are we the only ones that have weird things happen?

— Cindi Labadie

Cindi Labadie, mom to five and wife to one, blogs at “Seemingly Ordinary.”

What to expect when you expect to move,
tips from a veteran movin’ mamma

Kathryn StreeterBefore and after a move, there are plenty of rather predictable steps to make things easier. And then there are those other, more elusive things that only veteran moms can share.

After moving 22 times in 23 years of marriage, I’ve adopted several habits when faced with a move to help reduce the risk for melt-downs — and I’m not just referring to the kids here. Moving well takes a lot of composure and having insider knowledge will only help you be a better person (read: less crazy) through the chaos. If you’re lucky, you may even do it gracefully.

So when the ink on your new job contract has dried and the likely move morphs into the category of certainly, it’s like the start of the Indy 500 (yes, I’ve lived in Indianapolis and know what I’m talking about): there’s so much noise and confusion you can hardly hear yourself think. So digest this now, before the drivers start their engines.

Pre-Move

1. Start hoarding boxes, bags and newspaper. As soon as you know for sure that you’ll be moving, immediately start squirreling away random boxes and all types of plastic and paper bags. These items become your best friends as you begin the chore of purging. You’ll be sneaking things out of the kids’ rooms to deposit at Goodwill. You’ll be making hard decisions about consigning something quasi-valuable and sentimental — like maybe the dusty china you received long ago as wedding gifts. (Eeerp, nope, I haven’t done that yet. But maybe you will.) You’ll be transporting bags of hand-me-down clothing to best friends for their kids. You’ll be taking older towels and linens to a nearby shelter. You’ll be carting unwanted books, DVDs and CDs to Half-Price Books. And even if you’re lucky enough to have the company pay for full-moving services, you’ll probably want to pack some personal things yourself. Ziplock bags are great for your bathroom closet. Wine boxes from the grocery are terrific for personal journals and sensitive folders with confidential documents you’d rather pack yourself. Be ready and have these supplies around.

2. Locate every permanent marker in the house. Track down every last Sharpie you already have and then look out for sales so that you have an ample supply. In this case more is better. Go nuts. Permanent markers help save you time later because you’ll be more likely to label those boxes and bags with as much detail as you have the energy for. When you arrive and you’re looking at a neatly folded mattress pad tucked into zipped plastic storage bag, you’re better off knowing if it’s a queen size for the guest bed or two singles for the kids’ beds before you open it up. Don’t even be tempted to think your recall will be helpful. Trust me, your recall won’t show up in time to be remotely helpful. In fact, it may not even make the move.

3. Packing tape: you can’t have too much of it. Packing tape allows you to keep things from getting separated. Sometimes the movers will get it all done perfectly and every little screw or attachment will not only arrive (that’s generally not the problem) but they will be found. Mostly, various bits and bobs will tend to be illogically packed so you’re on a scavenger hunt to make your various household goods whole. And sometimes, things just don’t show up. I screwed up on this latest move to Austin. I should have taped over the newly replaced battery for our daughter’s wall clock to keep it from jiggling loose in the hands of the packers. The clock showed up just fine, minus that damn battery. You get what I mean. This stuff doesn’t rise to the level of major, but it’s amazing how when multiplied, all of these little missing parts can cost you time, money and your beloved sanity, which will already be in short supply.

4. Stash an arsenal of paper plates within reach. And plastic spoons and forks. And paper towels. Your kids are not going to be thinking about how their kitchen messes become a bigger problem as your moving date nears. Take charge and give yourself a break. Restrict use of glassware and go disposable so that you’re not stuck the night before the packers come with some late-night dishwashing party. By this point, your dishwasher should be verboten; hand-washing it will be, a party you’ll wish you could skip. Avoid this scenario by using paper products the week of your move. You may just be a little less crazy because of it, and your kids will think that’s a good thing.

Post-Move

5. Got gardening gloves? Use them. Cardboard is not your friend, moms. When you’re faced with mountains of boxes, you’ll feel like you may just survive the move if you have your garden gloves to protect your poor hands as they handle vast quantities of that hostile material. Also, handling sharp scissors and/or box-cutters when you’re teetering from exhaustion is dangerous. It’s easy to nick a finger and having even a humble pair of gardening gloves will provide a small degree of protection.

6. Bonus tip: Keep Band-Aids handy. No need to ask why. As you unpack, someone will need one. Trust me. And blood, dirty cardboard and newspaper or packing paper don’t mix. Unpacking towels and smearing blood on them isn’t cool. Stop the flow, stop whining and move on…

— Kathryn Streeter

Writer, traveler, mom and wife, Kathryn Streeter writes about people, places and family adventures. She’s highly mobile — Streeter has moved 22 times in 23 married years. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications including elephant journalMamalode, The Briar Cliff Review, BLUNTmoms and CSMonitor.

Pillow talk

Anne BardsleyAt three a.m., I heard my husband wake up to go to the bathroom. When he came back to bed, I could feel his usual flipping of the covers, and he sighed deeply. Then I heard him say, “Do you think I should cut my hair?” He was silent for a few minutes. Then another deep sigh. “I am so tired lately. Maybe it’s my thyroid.” Silence… sigh. “I really should join that gym,” he said. Silence, a sigh.

I started to giggle under the covers, and told him to stop.

“Have you noticed that my teeth are getting whiter?” Sigh.

“I only ask that to see if my whitening strips are working,” I protested.

“Why did I eat those potato chips?” he continued. Silence… sigh. “Do you think my legs are getting fatter?”

“Now stop!” I told him. “I really think I’m getting chubby.” Why was I listening to him at 3 a.m. anyway?

“I really have to get my hair cut,” he continued. Silence… sigh.

“So you agree I need a haircut? Maybe I should try a new color, too?”  I asked. This piqued my interest. I am never too tired to talk about my hair.

“My nails are a mess. French manicure or pink and white?” he continued. Silence… sigh. I started to drift off, but then he started again. “Oh, these hormones! Maybe I should stop taking them.” Silence and two big sighs.

Okay, so I do say that one a lot.

“I need a nap.” Silence, he yawned.

I was starting to feel sleepy and yawned, too.

“Maybe I should leave my hair long.” Silence, and a sigh. “Oh, I need more wrinkle cream.” Silence… big sigh.

“Thanks for reminding me,” I told him and smacked him.

“Does my face look old?” Silence… sigh.

I put the pillow over my head.

“Maybe I should do Zumba.” He was silent for a long time… two sighs. “I am just so confused lately!” Silence… loud sigh.

It sounded like he was winding down. By four a.m., he had covered every possible thing I’ve said.

Who knew he was listening?

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles, a collection of humorous and sentimental stories about marriage, motherhood and menopause. She lives in a menopausal world with a husband who gives her wrinkles. When people ask her age, she sometimes tells them her bra size. “36-C,” she says, “was a wonderful age.”

My new BFF

Suzanne Braun Levine(©Copyright 2014 Open Road Integrated Media. “My New BFF,” was originally published as a guest blog for the Open Road Media Project with Gloria Steinem, “Reading Our Way to the Revolution.”)

I have always been curious about Margaret Fuller. I knew only enough to think of her as the hippie of 19th-century feminists.

I picked up Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall, eager to get to the hippie part — Brook Farm, the commune she founded in the 1820s with her Transcendentalist friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. That turned out to be a minor moment in the rich and radical life of this journalist, activist, intellectual and social rebel, who was dubbed a “fore-sayer” because of her visionary and mind-blowing ideas.

Reading this lively biography was like discovering a long lost girlfriend. If we sat down over a cup of coffee, I know we would get right down to the kind of wide-ranging and irreverent conversation that I look for in a new friend. In her most influential book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, for example, she addressed a circumstance any woman of any era would recognize. Why, she wondered, do women fall for bad men? “The preference often shown by women for bad men arises,” she wrote, “from a confused idea that they are bold and adventurous, acquainted with regions which women are forbidden to explore.”

She understood that she was too smart for her own good and too outspoken for a woman of her times — “a mind that insisted on utterance” — but was unapologetic about it, and bore the consequences. She had passionate intellectual relationships with like-minded men — including Emerson, who shared endless details about his unhappy marriage, but never considered Margaret more than a pal. She formed what were consciousness-raising groups — called Conversations — among the educated women in her Boston circle. Not surprisingly to my generation of feminists, when the men insisted on being included — to raise the level of discussion — the meetings lost energy.

She became a crusading columnist, a first, and was sent to Rome by the pioneering newspaper editor Horace Greely to cover the revolutions of 1848. As her assignment became more bloody and dangerous, she, in the Hemingway tradition of (male) war correspondents to come, fell in love — with an impoverished and uneducated young Italian marchese. When she became pregnant, she didn’t abandon her post and gave birth to their child in the midst of a bombing raid.

Knowing she had broken every rule in the book, she hesitated to return to America, and when she finally decided to brave the censure and sail for home with her family, all three of them were drowned in a shipwreck off Fire Island in 1850. She was only 40. Yet, as Marshall points out, she had already found heaven — a life “empowering [her] to incessant acts of vigorous beauty.”

— Suzanne Braun Levine

Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and nationally recognized authority on women, families and media. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine (1972-1988), and the first woman editor of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. She reports on the ongoing changes in women’s lives in her books, on television, radio, at lectures and on her website. She’s the author of four books, including You Gotta Have Girlfriends — A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good For Your HealthIn 2014, she served on the EBWW faculty.

The ladies who yawn

Con ChapmanI have been a member of the male sex my entire life, actually longer, since my masculinity — such as it is — was determined when I first acquired one of those dust bunny-like creatures, the Y chromosome, nine months before I was born.

Despite my lack of a disinterested point of view, I will readily admit that men are the grosser sex.  We don’t smell as good as women, and we tend to scratch ourselves in places where we shouldn’t — even on national TV, in the case of professional athletes. With the exception of maybe Cary Grant, whose gentlemanly manner was as close to perfection as any man ever achieved, it’s hard to understand what women see in men at all.

The exception to this rule — I won’t say it proves it — is yawning. Perhaps because men have so many other faults to make up for, they seem to realize that when they open their mouths involuntarily to public view the polite thing to do is to cover them.  That’s what I was taught by my mother, and apparently somebody told other men — except for the out-and-out louts — to do the same.

I’ve come to believe that there’s a secret women’s handbook of manners floating around somewhere that says “Because we are the more delicate sex, and leave the room when we feel a giant taco burp coming up, we are allowed to yawn uncovered for great lengths of time in public. This is our ‘free space,’ like the middle square in Bingo. Have fun with it!”

It has taken me a long time to formulate my feelings on this point, but after years of control-group testing, surreptitious observation and late-night reveries fueled by red wine, my research points to one inescapable conclusion: women are less likely than men to cover their mouths when they yawn.

This week was something of a tipping point.  I have a walk of several hundred yards from my office to the train station, across a plaza where one can have an unobstructed view of a person walking in the opposite direction for a minute or more.  Yesterday I saw a woman emerge from the subway, start to yawn, and maintain a full, open-mouth position for a count of 14.6 seconds.  This is the etiquette counterpart to football’s “good hang-time,” the ability of a punter to kick a ball high in the air, giving his special team precious extra seconds to run downfield and pummel a speedy kick returner like a pinata at an 8-year-old’s birthday party.

Last week, as I was riding the MBTA’s Green Line, I sat opposite an attractive young woman and her boyfriend/fiance/husband. They were on their way to the airport, apparently at the end of a vacation, looking at the pictures they had taken around Boston. The woman began to yawn at the Boylston Street stop and — I swear — didn’t stop or cover her mouth until the conductor pulled into Park Street, several blocks away.  Park Street and Boylston Stations are the nation’s two oldest subway stations, built at the end of the 19th century when ladies who felt a belch coming on were sequestered in an upstairs bedroom or sent to the seashore until it had passed out of their system.

One of the great breakthroughs of quantum physics, Werner Heisenberg’s “Uncertainly Principle,” teaches us that the act of observation modifies the thing observed, so that absolutely precise measurements are impossible. I suppose it could be the case that women deliberately extend their yawns when they see men watching them, thinking, “Maybe if I show that creep my molars long enough, he’ll stop staring at me.”

The other possibility — actually, it’s more like a certainty — is that the woman you see yawning her head off in public today was kept up the night before by a man snoring like a sawmill at the mouth of roaring river.

That’s our free space, and if you don’t like it, you can take your bingo card and go sleep on the couch.

— Con Chapman

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

Reflections of Erma