EATING AN ELEPHANT

It’s natural to feel hopeless when you are surrounded by inequality, political corruption and unrest, and economic uncertainty, not to mention slow-but-sure destruction of the planet from pollution and global warming.  A fav self-help book offers this advice: “Don’t let all the things you can’t do stop you from doing the things you can do.”

Recycling is one small thing I can do, but commercial recyclers tend to be picky about what they will take (#1 and #2 plastics that are bottle-shaped).  Reusable shopping bags were my go-to until COVID-19 hit.  Many stores don’t offer paper, and I end up with more throwaway plastic bags than I could ever reuse.  In response to push-back from environmentalists, some chains have initiated take-backs.  The Kroger near us expanded their program to include all sorts of flimsy plastics.  Clean, dry items can be dropped in a dedicated container in their lobby to be recycled into composite decking and lumber.  It took time to train myself to check their list and not just toss bags and wraps and packing materials willy-nilly into the trash.  I saved up my plastics for six months before I dropped them off, and I was astounded to discover that my cache filled three 39-gallon lawn and leaf bags!  Yikes!

PLASTICS THEY’LL TAKE
(sing to the tune of My Favorite Things)

Bags from my shopping and bread and dry cleaning
Bags made for boiling and microwave steaming
Liners from Cheerios and Frosted Flakes
These are some plastics reclaimers will take

Overwrap binding those by-the-case bargains
Ice Mountain water and Bounty and Charmin
Wraps on cheese singles, between minute-steaks
These are some plastics reclaimers will take

Air-pillow packing and bubble-wrap mailers
Ziplocs and food wrap and sleeves from newspapers
Film from Hot pockets and Hostess cupcakes
These are some plastics reclaimers will take

Now that I know,
it will all go
to the Kroger store
to be hauled away,
then compressed and remade
into plastic 2 x 4’s

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FOUND POEM

This season, I was gratified to discover a few Millenials embracing an old-fashioned tradition, writing and mailing out Christmas letters.  My nephew Sam, an aspiring artist and musician who toiled at Walgreens by day and performed at open mikes by night before COVID interrupted his life, did a phenomenal job with his letter, closing with his “playlist” for 2020:   

Will You Miss Me When I Burn?  (Palace Brothers)

Say Valley Maker (Smog )

Out of Tune (Real Estate Band)

Jubilee Street (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)

Helplessness Blues (Fleet Foxes)

Sister (Angel Olsen)

Weyes Blood – Bad Magic (Mexican Summer)

It Seemed the Better Way (Leonard Cohen)

Shelter From The Storm (Bob Dylan)

Pretty Eyes (Silver Jews)

He sent me a YouTube link, so I spent a morning listening to his picks, trying to imagine the impact of the pandemic on the young… Living alone or with roommates in tiny apartments, going to scary essential jobs or scraping by on unemployment, alienated from friends, dating, and most social venues.  There is some overlap, certainly, but I am 52 and married, introverted, and retired.  I am my own landlord, have my own washer and dryer, and enjoy the company of two dogs and a cat.  I’m content baking cakes and reading the newspaper and assembling jigsaw puzzles. In fact, I may continue living this way after COVID has passed.  52 is quite different from 25.  Immersing myself in his playlist was like journeying to the past in a time machine.  When a particular lyric spoke to me, I jotted it down on an index card.  Strung end-to-end, with a little rearranging, these lyrics became a “found” poem: 

SORTING IT ALL OUT

It is longing that you feel,

to be missed, or to be real.

The world outside is so inconceivable,

often, you barely can speak,

a ten ton catastrophe  

on a 60pound chain.

The one-eyed undertaker,

he blows a futile horn.

At least there’s nothing more

you could really lose, now is there?

You wonder what it was…

You wonder what it meant…

You know we can’t cop to

the frequency of your inner debate

so you learn to take it as it comes.

You fall together, fall apart

with the grace of a corpse   

in a riptide.

Make the best of death 

and love what’s left.

Do you still believe stars

are the headlights of angels

driving from heaven

to save us?

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ERMA BOMBECK VIRTUAL AWARDS CEREMONY

Hello WordPress Friends!

Remember a few months ago when I posted about winning the Erma Bombeck Humor Essay contest?  I got word this week that, due to COVID-19, the awards ceremony is going to be conducted virtually on Thursday, October 8 from 7 – 7:45 pm EST on a site called Crowdcast.  Erma’s daughter, Betsy Bombeck, will give the keynote address and winners (including me) will read their essays.  You have to register at https://www.crowdcast.io/e/erma-bombeck-awards-ceremony if you wish to attend.  You must provide your email address and confirm it by responding to an email they send you.  If you’ve always wondered what JustJoan looks like, now is your chance to find out.  I look forward to seeing all of you in the audience.

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JUST BOPPIN’ ALONG

Last week, my friend Muri introduced me to a poetry form called The Bop.  A Bop consists of three mono-rhymed stanzas.  Each is followed by a single-line refrain.  The first stanza is six lines and presents a problem. The second stanza is eight lines and expands on the problem.  The third stanza is six lines and documents the resolution (or failed attempt/s at resolution).

That said, The Bop is an ideal form to address daily life in 2020.  There are huge problems all around us.  But it’s the pesky little problems that seem to demand most of our attention—dead batteries, overdue books, mosquito bites, etc.  When COVID-19 became a threat, I made it a habit to flush, then wash my hands until the toilet stops running, which takes about 20 seconds.  This approach works well as long as the flapper valve closes properly.  I dread when it doesn’t because I might have to put my hand into the tank.  And even if I don’t, I’ll have to touch something that warrants another 20 seconds of handwashing.

COMMODIUS BOP

I wipe my mucky tush,
toss paper in and flush,
and hear the water rush,
a robust cleansing gush
Down goes all the mush
but trickling, unhushed

whooshes in my ears

I wait a minute more
Quit running, I implore
A hit-the-flush encore
is weaker than before
and still the filler roars
Jig-jiggles are ignored
A loud and clear call for
internal maneuvers

whooshes in my ears

Let the games begin!
With clank of porcelain,
lid lifted, hand plunged in
dodging chains and pins
reseats valve seal again
A sweet but fleeting win

whooshes in my ears

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OH MY GOD! REALLY?

On a cold day in February, as I sat at my desk balancing my checkbook, the phone rang.  I snatched it up.  “Hello??!!”  I’m sure the caller could sense my irritation.  I’ve been told I wear my heart on my vocal cords.

“Good afternoon!” the woman said.  “Is this Joan Harris?”

“Depends.  Who’s calling?”  I was poised to hang up if she launched into a spiel asking if I was the person who handled the family electric bill, or offering me a special cable TV promotion.

“This is Debe Dockins,” she said, “I’m calling from the headquarters of the Erma Bombeck Essay Contest to inform you that you’ve won first prize in the local humor division.”

I was so flabbergasted I almost dropped the phone.  I must have said “Oh my God!  Really?” about fifty-seven times as her congratulations and instructions floated in one ear and out the other.  I’d need to send them a bio and a “head shot.”  I’d need to confirm my address and fill out a tax form so they could send me the prize money.  I’d need to commit to reading my piece at an awards ceremony on April 1st and make hotel reservations for the days of the workshop.  My head was spinning.  She said they would send a confirmatory e-mail, thank the Lord, containing all the details.

After the shock wore off, I opened the email and set about the required tasks.  I was looking forward to being back in Dayton for a spell, reading for an appreciative audience, attending a delectable array of humor writing classes, reconnecting with old neighbors and friends, noshing at our sorely-missed favorite restaurants.  Of course, it all went down the toilet when Coronavirus came to town.  They’re shooting for new dates in October, but truthfully, anything could happen.

Without further ado, here is my prize-winning essay.  I have included a link below so you can read the other winning essays and runners up if you wish.  Pretty stiff competition.

    We need these in the Ladies dressing room!

SWIMSUIT ISSUES

I almost scrapped the idea of joining AquaRobics because it meant buying a swimsuit.  Why do dressing rooms have three-way mirrors that provide a panoramic view of every bulge on your personal landscape?  Wouldn’t it make more financial sense to install funhouse mirrors that stretch corpulent customers into five-foot-ten supermodels?  As it happens, I was able to bypass the cellulite confessional because, according to the retail calendar, summer is the off-season for swim-suits.  In January, they’re plentiful as flies in an outhouse but in July, you must shop online or make do with a Wonder Woman Halloween costume.

Catalog dot.coms offer hundreds of swimsuits modeled by lanky teenagers.  You wade and click, wade and click, comparing features and trying to imagine what the suit would look like on an older, flabbier person.  They need to create a Midlife section where you can narrow your search by figure flaw, like Jelly Belly or Butt Requiring its own ZIP Code.  Or by remedy, such as Compress it with a Spandex Panel, Hide it Under a Skirt, or Draw Attention from it by Using Bright Colors on the Opposite Half of the Suit.

I ordered a navy swim dress with tiny white polka-dots.  It skimmed over my figure flaws as promised and seemed quite perfect, until I got in the water.  Submerged, the skirt had a mind of its own.  It floated at armpit level, twisting and tangling.  Doing AquaRobics was like wrestling with an umbrella in a monsoon.  After class, the sodden skirt sagged to my ankles, having somehow grown three feet while I was in the pool.  So I exchanged the swim dress for a color block tank designed to divert attention from my behind, a goal it achieved each time a shoulder strap abandoned its post and allowed a breast to escape.  I traded in the tank for a 97% Spandex racer-back suit.  The top is snug as a mammogram machine and the material in the tummy control panel could be used for building levees.  It performed commendably in the water – no tangles, sags, or peek-a-boobs.

“How’s the new suit working out?” a classmate asked.

“This one’s a keeper,” I replied.  When I hit the showers a few minutes later, I realized truer words had never been spoken.  My body heat had vacuum-sealed the wet Spandex to my torso and although the wide, X-shaped straps had gone on with ease, their removal would have flummoxed Houdini himself.  After ten minutes of contortions and tug-of-war, I heard a loud pop and the swimsuit surrendered.

The bad news?  I’ll have to buy a new suit.  The good news?  By the time I finish therapy for my dislocated shoulder, they’ll be back in season.

ERMA BOMBECK ESSAY CONTEST WINNERS

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SHIT STORM SESTINA

The sestina is a complicated poetry form, one that gives my bud Muri hives.  I don’t blame her.  A sestina has six six-line stanzas and a three-line envoi.  The same six words are the end words of the lines in each stanza, but they appear in a different order each time, as set forth by the rules of the form.  They show up in a prescribed order in the envoi as well.  I wrote my first sestina during a poetry workshop.  The words (witch, field, guide, fire, violet, and shit-storm) were contributed by the students in the class.  How does a person use “shit-storm” seven times in one poem?  You’re about to find out.  That workshop was five years ago.  I’ve kept in touch with the instructor, Dr. Woodward Martin, and recently had the pleasure of hearing him read at a Zoom poetry event.

MEDICS IN TRAINING  

Instructing new recruits was a sergeant everyone called The Witch.
She was ill-tempered but would teach us how to survive in the field.
She handed each of us a spiral-bound combat readiness guide.
Being prepared would prevent unfortunate trials by fire.
For instance, CPR was best learned BEFORE your buddy turned violet
and you found yourself in the middle of a shit-storm.

And eventually it was going to happen, the shit-storm.
It was inevitable in the world of combat, said The Witch.
I may have begun hyperventilating, my fingers were turning violet.
She pointed this out, asked what remedy we’d use in the field.
Every pair of eyes looked down, flipping through pages rapid-fire,
searching for redemption in the little spiral-bound guide

Breathing into a paper bag will help, advised the guide.
Rebreathing CO2 should calm the anxious and dizzy shit-storm.
Commit it to memory, she said, many hyperventilate under fire,
and if you don’t have a paper bag, any kind will do.  The Witch
reminded us that medical supplies are often lacking in the field.
One has to make do when fingers begin to tingle and turn violet.

I had never before thought of it as an ugly color, violet,
but it usually meant something ominous, according to the guide.
Not like the pretty patches of wildflowers that dotted our field,
but mottling and cyanosis and bruises and dead tissue, a shit-storm
of potentially life-threatening ailments.  Just as The Witch
opened her mouth to speak, an alarm rang out – Fire!  Fire!  Fire!

We made an orderly exit and stood watching as the fire
trucks pulled up, sirens screaming, to investigate the gray-violet
smoke rising from the building.  We realized The Witch
had begun to hyperventilate.  No one needed to consult the guide.
Armed with our new knowledge, we were ready for the shit-storm.
A recruit pulled a paper lunch bag from the pocket of his field

jacket, delighted that he was properly equipped to field
the emergency.  He had her breathe into the bag as the fire
raged on, the flames consuming the roof and sending a shit storm
of ashes swirling through the air.  He took her arm to guide
her to a bench, where normal color returned to her once-violet
fingertips.  Once she recovered her composure, The Witch

seemed not so much a witch as a human like us, a field
medic and leader and guide.  I heard she married one of the fire-
men, named her daughter Violet, and still loves a good shit storm.

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HAVEN’T A SQUARE TO SPARE?

My favorite toilet paper meme so far is this one:

I used to spin that baby like I was on Wheel of Fortune.
Now I do it like I’m cracking a safe.

While everyone else is freaking about the TP shortage, I’m coming up with solutions.  My alternatives are normal, everyday things you’ll find around the house.  They range from flushable and washable to cosmo-politan and unconventional, even S&M if you don’t mind it a bit rough.  You’re welcome.  Now stay in, stay safe, and stay clean and dry.

PS:  I learned a new trick – how to do footnotes!

THE A-Z GUIDE TO
TP ALTERNATIVES

All types of wipes[1]
Brown grocery bags
Catalogs
Dust cloths
Euro-style bidet
Feminine products
Garden hose bidet
Handkerchiefs
Incontinence pads
Junk mail
Kleenex
Lone socks
Magazines
Napkins
Old newspapers
Paper towels
Quasi-TP[2]
Rags
Shop towels
Tissue paper
Unwashed undies
Vagabond items[3]
Washcloths
X-mas wrap
Yellow Pages
Zero waste methods[4]

[1] Baby, personal, flushable, hygienic, moist towelettes, Shittens
[2] Perforated paper on a roll that is 1-ply, recycled, or RV-safe
[3] Listed items that have wandered into your garage, car, treehouse, greenhouse, she-shed, storm cellar, camper, boat, summer cabin, etc.
[4] Shake-shake and Drip-dry (pee only)

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IS CHEWING REALLY NECESSARY?

Today’s response to MURI’S 2020 CHALLENGE FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH.  Like the 2019 challenge, this consists of 13 prompts, one for each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in April. They can be completed in any order.  If you are interested in participating, click on the above link for the prompts and posting guidelines.

Prompt #13 is “Get extra points and bragging rights by writing a poem using the following words – basil, candle, ink, tub, bread, lace.”

A strange grouping of words, no doubt… They painted a picture in my mind of a long soak in a clawfoot tub with a few tealights burning, the window open, lace curtains fluttering in the breeze.  On the vanity lies
a longhand letter half-tucked into a matching envelope.  But the bread did not materialize.  Neither did the basil.  Even if they had, how would
I write a poem about a scenario I know zilch about?  I can’t sit still long enough to enjoy a bath and neither of my bathrooms have a window, not to mention nobody in their right mind brings a treasured piece of correspondence into a space full of puddles and poo molecules.

Writer’s rule #1 is “Write what you know.”  When one of my crowns fell out, I had a story to tell.  But how would I get all the compulsory words to fit?  Poets are masterful at finding ways to break the rules while still operating within them.  They might even throw in a rhyme scheme just for shits and grins.

Yuge thanks to Muri for hosting this NPM challenge and providing the prompts.  I don’t know which was more fun, writing my own poems or reading the other submissions.

UH-OH

An upper crown
fell out of place
and left behind
an empty space

A jack-o-lantern
sans the candle
chewing things
it cannot handle

A trap for dough
and basil shreds
from Italian subs
on crusty bread

Off to Drug Mart
I boldly went
for a jar of DIY
tooth cement

The fix felt weird
My bite was off
It proved no match
for dental floss

The options suck
A vexing wobble?
Or a tender stub
to mollycoddle?

I’m on the brink
Should I endure it?
Or have an expert
resecure it?

Despite the risks
of COVID’s scare,
I guess I’ll brave
the dental chair

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