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Click any letter for a look at my prize-winning essay from the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. You don't even have to buy a vowel.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

So Help Me Erma

Sometimes when you write, the words float from your pen like a perfect curve ball on a summer day. You could pitch a perfect game without ever leaving your desk. But even All Stars have a little trouble from time to time getting the ball to the plate, the pen to the page. Don’t let the secret out—not for free, anyway—but there are ways to help yourself out of a jam when the count is high and you don’t really have your stuff.

In view of present-day performance enhancement and past Congressional proceedings concerning America’s Past Time, though, I’ll be sure to keep my stuff source confidential. I’m dreading the day some Government Honcho asks me to tell the truth, not miniscule portions of the truth, so help me Erma:

Honcho: On Monday morning did you intentionally partake of a foreign substance to enhance your writing ability?

Me: Yes, sir.

Honcho: And could you tell us the name of this substance?

Me: It was. . .coffee.

Honcho: I see. Is this coffee the only performance-altering substance that you ingested?

Me: Well, I added sugar. A lot of sugar.

Honcho: What did you hope to accomplish by this act?

Me: I hoped to remember how to turn on the computer and to be able to spell my name correctly.

Honcho: And were these actions made possible when you ingested this substance?

Me: Well, I had to wait a few minutes for the caffeine to take effect and the sugar to shift into gear, but yes. I was even able to find my files and tell the difference between an adjective and an adverb.

Honcho: I see. Was this your first experience with this substance?

Me: No, sir. My Dad drank it every day when I was growing up. My husband drinks it now. He uses a personal-sized drip coffee maker.

Honcho: You have coffee paraphernalia in the house? Did your husband coerce you into using this substance?

Me: (sensing a scapegoat): Well he did bring me a cup and tell me it might help. It looked so warm and rich, I couldn’t resist.

Honcho: Are you willing to supply any more names in connection with this substance?

Me: Well there’s Juan Valdez. . .

Honcho: We’ll make a note. Now, do you use any more substances that enhance your abilities?

Me: Well, there’s a substance writers like to call chair glue.

Honcho: You inhaled glue?

Me: No sir. Chair glue is what writers use to stay in their chair long enough to accomplish their goals. It’s not something anyone else knows is there.

Honcho: So it’s odorless and tasteless?

Me: It’s more a state of mind. It helps you make your dreams come true.

Honcho: So it’s hallucinogenic.

Me: Well, it makes all things seem possible.

Honcho: I see--it’s mind altering. Why do you apply it to your chair?

Me: You don’t really apply it. It sort of comes from within.

Honcho: I see. We’ll list that as an undesirable side effect. Do you feel that these substances advanced your abilities in any way?

Me: Well, I’ve had several essays published.

Honcho: You’re a published writer.

Me: Yes, sir.

Honcho: Well, let me tell you about this novel I’ve been working on. Perhaps you could take a look at it. There’s this one part where the hero just doesn’t have any motivation, and. . .

Me: You might try some of that coffee sir. And the chair glue.

Honcho: Where do you procure these substances?

Me: Well, I can hook you up with some coffee, no problem. As for the other thing, see me after the hearings and I’ll point you toward some websites with good tips.

Honcho: You’re free to go.

Me: Thank you, sir. I’ll meet you at Starbucks in half an hour. The first one's free.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What's Cooking?

I’ve had it the same way every Tuesday night since I got married.”

“Sunday for me. And it’s always the same. Rub it with butter, turn on the heat, and wait til it’s done.”

“If they can show me one new thing to do with a chicken, it’ll be worth the money.” I sighed, peering again into the refrigerator. I’m hanging on the door hoping the Food Fairy has arrived with a creative new dish for supper. My two sisters are there to fight over the wishbone.

“That’s it. Let’s go to the cooking show. What could it hurt? Besides, we don’t have time to cook before it starts, so we’ll have to eat out.”

An hour later, Laudy, Quirky, and I, blotting bleu cheese and bacon bits from our blouses, surrendered three bucks each and filed into our seats. The woman in charge of the cooking show resembled a test pilot instead of a test cook. With that microphone headset she wore I expected to hear “Cheese manned and ready, sir!” any minute. I couldn’t imagine measuring flour in front of 500 women. At home, I can’t tolerate even one living person near me as I jerk open drawers and slam doors looking for the quarter cup. I was there as much to see the kind of person who possessed such bravado as I was to get free food samples. Okay, truthfully I was there for the free food, but there were other important things as well, like discovering new ways to put the “hot” into hot wings and entering the raffle for the free mixer.

The stage was set up with a small kitchen that looked like it was delivered on the back of a pickup truck from Toys R Us. A woman browned chicken with more enthusiasm than most people generally reserve for sex. Another one created a sugar free peach dessert that made an audience full of mid-life belly-roll ladies yearn to rush the stage like it was a Tom Jones concert. Still another showed us more creative things to do with cream soup than I could do with a tub of gelatin and a turkey baster. A woman next to me, who wore diamonds like the rest of us wear polka dots, tucked coupons she found on the floor into her goody bag. Laudy scribbled her phone number on the back of an old recipe for round steak she found in her pocketbook and attempted to sling it on stage.

At the end of the show, we twittered like sparrows in springtime as the hostesses awarded door prizes. A woman in front of me won a kitchen gadget that I had lived 40 years without knowledge of and would probably live my next 40 without need for. Envy covered me like ivy on an outhouse. A middle aged woman, whose striped blouse was tucked into blue polyester pants just under her armpits, won two wooden spoons. It looked like all the good stuff was going first.

Finally, slow as the last hour of work before a three-day weekend, the last name came out of the basket. I was still checking my ticket when Quirky, wearing a smug expression like it matched her pumps and purse, pushed past me on the way to claim her prize. She won an autographed cookbook full of recipes for ground beef. The unfairness of the universe consumed me.

“I thought we were here for the chicken,” I hissed as the traitor squeezed past.

“Oh, rub it with butter,” she smirked. “Hamburger. Now that’s where the action is.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

For Whom the Phone Rings

A cell phone is an incredible invention, designed with amazing technology by intellectual minds, so that our children, who normally count screaming “Front seat shotgun” as they race to the car as interpersonal conversation, can talk to us in the bathroom even when we're not at home.

With high hopes for a goal of widespread family communication in the new year, I finally submitted to the cell craze and bestowed the most basic instruments upon the family, admonishing the kids that these phones should be used only in cases of dire emergency such as a vehicular crisis more severe than a broken radio knob, physical injury resulting in the use of the family health insurance, or an unbelievable shoe sale at the mall.

Minutes later I received a text message from my oldest son who was located directly across the kitchen table, typing furiously on his new phone’s keypad. During several attempts to read the message, I managed to call myself twice, change the screensaver, and turn on the speakerphone function.

“Mom, just press this button,” the Alexander Graham Bell of the electronic age reached across and tapped the keypad. With a resounding beep, the message leaped to the screen.
“Pass the potatoes.”

New rule. No more text messages between people who are close enough to cut each other’s meat.

On my next trip to the mall, I visited the convenient restrooms thoughtfully located in the luau-themed food court. Hanging my purse on the pineapple, I assumed the classic public restroom hover-squat recognizable to health-conscious women everywhere. Suddenly, the unmistakable sounds of Beethoven’s most famous four notes exploded against the ceramic walls. DA DA DA DUN! I wanted a ring tone I could hear. I picked one that climbers sheltering from sudden storms on Everest could hear. I looked up. My purse hung tantalizingly above my head like an overripe coconut on a palm tree.

If I could kick the bottom of the bag, I could knock it from the hook to the floor and retrieve it with the toe of my imitation leather flower-bedecked thong sandal. I reached out tentatively with one shoe and immediately appreciated the disastrous results of stretching further.

DA DA DA DUN!

An attempt to use the spare roll of toilet paper as a projectile also failed.

DA DA DA DUN! Beethoven played on, more insistent with every note.

In desperation, I lunged for my purse, grabbed it off the hook and fell back in place just as the automatic flusher sensed evacuation and commenced operations. I pulled the phone from the depths of its nest and flipped it open with a flourish. The caller was my firstborn son, obviously in some turmoil that only his mother could resolve.

“Hello?”

“Mom, do we have any clean spoons?”

It figures. To me, crisis avoidance is saving my skirt from the self-flusher. To him, it’s getting a snack before CSI comes on.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Prozac Politics

At our house we refer to this as the year of Prozac Politics. Confidence in the current group of presidential possibles increases with the level of prescription medication in my bloodstream.

To underscore the serious nature of the political situation, it is important to notify the voting public that the future endeavors of the superpower known as The United States rests solidly in the hands of my teenage sons—and their friends Hungry, Toothpick, and Gumpy.

In one of those amazing cosmic coincidences, sort of like the startling discovery that Hannah Montana can inspire a little girl to tell a Very Bad Lie and win concert tickets and national fame, my sons, and their entourage, will be eligible to vote for the first time in this year’s presidential elections.

Although I am overcome with maternal pride in knowing that someone who would rather run through the neighborhood naked than dish a ladybug out of their bathwater is eligible to pull the lever that guides our future, I can’t help but consider how the rising votership could affect the elections. I just know that hovering on the horizon are political signs that read “I’m Freakin’ Awesome” and that business dress for meetings of world leaders will soon include a black T-Shirt that boasts “I’m Too Sexy For My Shorts.”

While I agree that the children are our future, I can’t help but harbor more than a little concern about the ability of a group of people who are strongly considering writing Chuck Norris in as a potential presidential candidate to select adequate leadership for our country. It is only slightly comforting to know that their opposition represents a grass roots movement that supports Jackie Chan. A close race could be decided with a roundhouse kick.

Also while I’m not entirely ready to endorse any of the current presidential candidates, I’m pretty sure that none of the main contenders should exist only on the business end of a video game controller. The major candidates from the Virtual Party are anyone who can play Iron Man without missing any notes on Guitar Hero, and Master Chief from Halo, whose idea of foreign trade is an exchange of bodies. Come to think of it, Master Chief would be an awesome presence at the G8 summits--or is it G9? I was never good at Bingo.

Now that my teens are voting, it’s up to me to set a good example when selecting a leader for our country. We need somebody who is not afraid to face challenges, who won’t back down from a confrontation, but who is not a bully. We need someone with the creativity and presence of mind to engage in skillful negotiations when the chips are down and the price is high.

Wonder what Johnny Depp is doing for the next four years? We’ve had worse things than a pirate in the White House.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Plum Crazy

I recently attempted to purchase two plums at a local grocery store. It would have been easier to get elected head of the Happy Hollow chapter of Hell’s Angels than it was to buy those two plums.

“What’s this?” The cashier, who is approximately the same age as my knee replacement, held up a plastic baggie that contained two small purplish globes. The look on her face asked the obvious question. “Where did the crazy woman get the body parts and how do I alert store security without having to deal with bloodstains on my scanner?”

I remember when it took all their concentration to ask “paper or plastic?”

The trouble with parents today is that they don’t let kids peel potatoes. Back in the good old days, kids spent quality time in the kitchen, slicing and dicing and cleaning out the gunk in the drain. Kids today are too busy taking Advanced Placement classes and computing their GPR to do chores. That’s why none of them can tell the difference between a kumquat and a kiwi so that they can hold down a decent job at the Piggly Wiggly. Sure the modern kid can program a cell phone to intercept messages of national security from spy satellites, but when it comes to real life his grocery cart has a loose wheel.

“They’re fruit!” I shouted in the tone of voice I usually reserve for children who are engaged in enthusiastic games of lawn darts in populated areas.

The cashier looked at me as if contemplating a dress code change to include full body armor, and held up my helpless plums beside a picture of an eggplant in her secret cashier code book.

“Are they like apples?” she asked leafing through the pages.

“Yeah, the same way Richard Simmons is like Robert Redford.”

“Who?”

“He looks a lot like Brad Pitt.”

“Oh, that old guy from the movies.”

“Yes. Robert Redford.”

“Not him. I meant Brad Pitt.”

“Look, I’m not trying to give you brain freeze. I just want to buy plums.”

She flipped the “assistance needed” light over her cash register. This simple flashing light initiated immediate changes in shopper-to-shopper interface. A mother of two behind me ceased counting the piggies on the dimpled bundle in her buggy and fixed me with an evil eye. Her older daughter, a charming toddler dressed in pink, gave up begging for gummy bears and launched a barrage of peanut M&M’s at my shoe. Behind the Partridge turned Munster family, a balding man in Bermuda shorts dialed 911 on his cell phone and a Goth-style teenager drew a tear in her white makeup with a spiky black fingernail.

As the light pulsed on and off, a tense stillness settled over the surrounding area. In the sudden lull, the cashier’s voice came loud and clear over the microphone. “FRUIT AT REGISTER SIX!”

I can understand the feelings of the people waiting in line, but it was downright rude of them to shout AMEN!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sim Son

Today in the spirit of goodwill and because I wanted to put off doing the dishes, I agreed to play a video game with my teenaged son. Electronics is still a new and unfamiliar territory for me. I remember when we played Solitaire with real cards. Teenagers are also a new and unfamiliar territory. I remember when I entertained the children with the big box of Crayolas and a Barney video.

He handed me a controller that looked like the key to the nation’s nuclear warheads.

“Shouldn’t this be kept in a briefcase chained to a large, clean-shaven man in a suit?” I asked turning it over in my hand.

“It’s easy. You press the big buttons on the front to go up and down and to look behind you. You use the four arrow keys to go the different directions. You press the round button at the bottom to shoot.”

“What are these other little buttons for?” I asked gesturing toward a circular arrangement that resembled a miniature Stonehenge.

“You don’t want to know.”

Instinctively, I tightened my grip. There was a blinding blue flash on the screen.

“Great move, Mom. You just blew yourself up.”

After some experimentation, I managed to mobilize my soldier. He advanced to a cliff and fell over the edge. Luckily he landed beside an assault rifle which would come in handy if I could figure out how to pick it up. While I was still trying to decide which combination of alphabet buttons to use, my son buzzed by my head with a flying motorcycle. There was a blinding blue flash on the screen.

“Mom, you might want to stay away from that big button on the right. You blew yourself up again.”

“I can’t help it. When you attack me, my keen, battle-honed instincts kick in and I squeeze the controller.”

“Well your keen, battle-honed instincts just took out two jeeps, a health pack, and your food supply.”

“My soldier has adapted to short rations in the field.”

“That’s because he’s dead.”

I was delighted to find that my soldier reacted to stress the same way I do after a long day at work. He frequently collapsed in a pile then popped up prepared to obliterate mankind in the mad search for provisions. Granted, learning to work the controller was a little bit tricky. The soldier’s head refused to function in cooperation with his body, and there were times I felt sure his feet started off in directions that had nothing to do with the overall mission plan. Sounds like any given Monday morning at my house.

I wish all I had to do for supplies was stroll over a backpack along the trail. In real life, I’d probably break my leg in three places, dislocate my elbow, and tear my pantyhose, only to find there was nothing left in the rations pack but six stale Cheerios and a candy bar wrapper. Here, there was a blinding blue flash and moments later Soldier Boy was as good as new.

My son, good sport and selfless humanitarian that he is, soon tired of watching my multiple suicide missions and began to give me pointers. “Mom, the thing to remember is that if you see a blue flash, that’s bad.” And later, “Mom, your gun is pointed at the ceiling. You just blew a skylight into your hideout.” Soon after that, he sighed and stopped his soldier so close to mine that I could have parted his helmet with my flame thrower if I could figure out how to aim at anything besides my feet.

My teenaged son was giving me a free shot. I smiled as my keen, battle-honed instincts took over.

There was a blinding blue flash.

He sighed. “Mom, how’d you like to play Solitaire? We’ll do it the old-fashioned way. We’ll use real cards.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Short Skirts to Stretchy Pants

Sunday, on a whim, I wore high heels to church. The next time I have a bright idea like that, I’ll just go ahead and slash my Achilles tendons with a machete and drive tenpenny nails into my feet.

There was a time I could keep up with the latest fashion trends, but now that I’ve discovered stretchy pants and flip flops, I shy away from clothing choices that cling tighter than a six-year old in the cereal aisle. When I was in high school I had skirts so short my daddy put police tape around the bottom. I wore halter tops that showed more skin that a whole bucket of the Colonel’s original recipe. And I had pants tight enough to cut off the blood supply to my boyfriend’s heart. I knew I was ready for school every morning when Mom clutched her chest and shrieked, “Are you going to wear THAT?”

No, Mom, this outfit was designed to throw off the paparazzi.

Now that that I’ve reached the age when I have to consider the possibility that bending over to tie my shoes could result in the use of my health insurance, I don’t feel the need to indulge in garments that would garner the interest of bondage enthusiasts. I’m just thankful if my clothes cover any body parts that might be offensive to passers by. I also take into consideration whether pictures of me dressed for the day might inspire a record number of hits on You Tube or win the big money on Funniest Home Videos. In that case thong underwear would just be cruel to those who love me most.

Granted, you’re more likely to find my signature look on a donations jar than splashed across the pages of Cosmo, but as long as I don’t frighten small children or incite stampeding among wandering herds of mall rats, I’m not likely to check in with the Queer Eye guys for fashion tips.

This morning I appeared at breakfast dressed for work. My gray stretchy pants took a marked detour around my midsection, causing them to stop a bit short of Son One's soccer socks, the only pair I could find that matched. If I hadn't left my trifocals in the dishwasher again, I might have noticed the gravy stains forming a connect the dots pattern in the shape of a pork chop on my shirt before the dog sniffed my sleeve looking for a snack. And as long as I leaned forward a little, nobody could tell I’d had a C-section.

Son Two’s cereal spoon hovered in midair like a Southern mosquito on a summer afternoon. He regarded me gravely, “Mom are you gonna wear that?”

“Since when do you take an interest in my clothes?”

“Since you decided to wear Pop's shirt, Ryan's socks, and my sweatpants.”

Well, thank goodness. I was afraid it was MY clothes that were out of style.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Thighs Have It

I’m at the age when my thighs angrily reject fat-free muffins. “Bring us biscuits,” they sneer, spraying sparks as I walk. I would like to see daylight between my thighs just one more time before I die. I’m not planning on leaving the world of supersized fries and double-thick shakes any time soon, mind you. But it’s nice to have a goal.
So after an unfortunate career change (from having one to suddenly not having one) I decided to join the health and fitness craze and submerge myself in aerobic (free) activity. It was either that or shop for a new interview suit in the chubby department. “Let’s go walking,” I suggested to my sister, Laudy.
“Why?” she gasped, regarding me with the look she usually reserved for artificial cheese.
“Well,” I said, suddenly inspired. “If we’re out of the house, we won’t be licking crumbs from the toaster oven tray. I got a nasty burn chasing banana bread bits last time.”
So every morning we walked at the mall. We walked 20 minutes in from the parking lot to the biscuit place. Then we walked 20 minutes back to our cars, chewing thoughtfully.
“You think we should pick up our pace?” I asked one day as we strolled along.
“I’m stuffed. I couldn’t eat another bite.” She held tightly to her biscuit wrapper as two elderly ladies dressed in sweat suits shot past us, whipping up an unruly breeze.
“Well, maybe we’ve missed the point.” I brushed sausage crumbs from my stomach. “I wore corduroy pants last week and almost set my underwear on fire. Smoke was coming out of my pants leg and a waitress poured tea in my lap trying to put me out.”
Ultimately I had to give up the “walk yourself thin” health regimen touted by all the women’s magazines. I gained so much weight, I found out my stretchy pants were in cahoots with a panty girdle I’d stuffed in the sock drawer.
For the New Year, I’m tinkering with an experimental new program: The Sports Bra Allover Workout. With the startling acumen that usually alerts me to uneaten pie crust on the plates of nearby diners, I noticed that I often bust buttons off of blouses in spontaneous bursts of rapid fire. I also snap underwires like rednecks crush beer cans, only I don’t use my forehead.
Therefore I have instituted a rigorous physical training program. I plan to keep fit with a three times weekly series of stretching exercises followed by a trip to Wal-Mart to try on sports bras. Granted that this is a pastime fraught with danger, I’m going to approach my new exercise program with a certain degree of caution and respect for spandex.
Yesterday when I attempted my first fatbuster fitting, I foolishly tried to pull the treacherous garment on over my head. I exercised not only myself, but two elderly saleswomen and a security guard who thought I was trying to rob the lingerie department when the wretched thing snapped smartly around my face like a ski mask leech and wouldn’t let go. My ears stuck through the armholes and I had to chew an air passage in the doubleknit to breathe.
I may have to give up on my new exercise program, though. The store manager red-carded me and banned me from lingerie. Maybe I’ll try Victoria’s Secret. It did wonders for Heidi Klum. She’s had three children, looks great, and gets a discount on all the undergarments that fight back.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Swine Dining

“Let’s hit the feed trough.”
Recently I ventured out on a shopping expedition with Laudy and Quirky, my dear sisters whose lives are devoted to my best interests. In the name of fellowship, and because at least one of us exhibits the beginnings of unladylike behavior when hungry, I suggested we stop on the way for a bite at one of the all-you-can eat buffet restaurants that have spread across the country like heat rash on a baby’s behind.
“I guess we’d better,” Quirky rolled her eyes at Laudy. “Remember last time we waited too long for lunch and she called the saleslady that ugly name.”
“Yeah,” Laudy giggled. “Procreating Peanut Head.”
“I meant procrastinating,” I answered huffily. “She took forever at that cash register. You’d think there were cheese souffl├ęs under those keys.”
“That’s because you made her check every price by hand when she accidentally charged you the extra dime for that chipped dessert plate. I’d make a mistake too, if I had you looming over my cash register like a buzzard on a dead possum.”
“Are you comparing me to an unsightly scavenger whose main goal in life is to seek out helpless prey?”
“If the beak fits. . .”
“Let’s go eat at the buffet.”
Calming words for troubled charge cards.
We whipped an emergency buffet turn, and in barely the time it takes to say mashed potatoes and gravy we were headed to our table lugging a tray covered with enough plates and bowls to serve everyone at the Kennedy family reunion.
An hour and a half later, I laid down my dessert fork, which had also served handily as my salad and dinner fork, and glanced around the table. Quirky was licking the cellophane from her coconut pie and Laudy was napping face down in her salad plate. I leaned back in my chair, caressing my stomach like it was a freshly baked creampuff. Luckily I had on trousers with an elastic waistband and did not have to resort to unorthodox clothing alterations.
“I’m glad you wore those pants.” Quirky observed. “Last time when you tried to unfasten your top button, it shot across the table, popped me in the eye and dropped into my iced tea. “I almost swallowed it and the busboy had to perform the Heimlich maneuver to get it out of my throat.” She rolled her eyes, an unbecoming character trait designed to draw attention to herself.
"You're a fine one to talk." I shot back. "Remember when you and that lady with the cane both went after the last yeast roll?" When I tried to break up the fight, you poked me with your salad fork and she whacked me with her walking stick."
“Yeah,” Quirky smiled fondly. “That was a good one. Did you see that lady in green?”
“Sure did. I used to date a man with a mustache like that.”
“Well she tried to bump me at the roast beef. I gave her a look and turned my back.”
“I’m sure you won that battle. Nobody can beat your backside."
We sat quietly for a moment, digesting our lunch and picking food from our teeth.
I belched delicately. “Wanna go to the mall?”
Quirky snorted. “I don’t even want to walk to the car.”
Laudy’s head rolled to the side as a snore echoed across the table, rattling coffee cups against their saucers. Her cheek was freckled with poppy seed dressing and a radish was stuck in her ear.
"I hate to wake her up," Quirky said wistfully, casting a longing glance toward the doughnuts.
Just as I was about to reply with an invitation for a short stroll to the dessert bar, a large woman waddled past us clutching a loaded plate in each hand. Thousand Island dressing cascaded down the side of a mountain of greenery and dropped in large dollops down the side of her housedress and puddled into her house slippers as she walked.
“You are what you eat,” Quirky observed, licking her finger to pick up the last of the coconut on her plate.
“You know, some people should take better care of themselves,” I agreed, brushing cookie crumbs off my chest.”
We watched the woman as she made the tedious journey back to her seat. She lumbered to a stop at a table in the corner where sat a man whose body was the size and texture of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. Placing the overflowing dishes carefully in front of him, she dropped with a thud opposite him where sat a delicate dish of fresh fruit.
Quirky and I exchanged glances. “Care for dessert?” I asked.
“Your plate or mine?”