Archive for the ‘Complicating It All’ Category

Hmmm. Which book should I buy? Maybe the one with my name on it?

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Finding myself in good company at Barnes & Noble…

Thrilled to have hit #22 in Father’s Day sales rank on BarnesandNoble.com

My NEW BOOK of Quirky Quips, Playful Puns & Goofy Gags!

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Everybody loves totally cringeworthy dad jokes because they’re just so silly you can’t help but laugh. This book is a funny (and absurd) look at the world that makes the perfect gift for Father’s Day, birthdays, and other occasions.

Here’s a great New York Times piece on the longevity and charm of dad jokes in comedy

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/12/arts/television/dad-jokes.html

My Millennial ATM – “MAD” Magazine

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Being “Proaaaaactiv” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” Magazine Issue #522

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“Glass Ceiling Plus” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” Magazine Issue #545 (back cover)

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“Brutally Honest Park Bench Plaques” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” Magazine Issue #550

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“Workers We’d Like To Go A Day Without” in “MAD” Magazine

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MAD MAGAZINE ISSUE #550 

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“Soldiers of Misfortune” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” Magazine Issue #531

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“A City Divided By A Beak” in the “NY Times”

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A City Divided by a Beak

Third Avenue bus pulled over by frantic man on street. Explains he must retrieve friend’s escaped pet bird from roof of bus.

Bird Sitter begs Alarmed Driver to let him climb on top of bus to rescue pet. Driver says no, too dangerous.

Bird Sitter steps in front of bus defiantly. Bus cannot move. Bird Sitter shouts, “That bird must be saved!” Peering out the window from my seat, I am inspired. Lone man staring down city bus — an ornithological Tiananmen Square.

Passengers split into two factions: those on Team Bird — MUST SAVE BIRD! — and those on Team Gripe — BIRD MUST DIE SO BUS CAN GET MOVING!

I join Team Bird out on the street. Offer Bird Sitter my umbrella. Alarmed Driver calls dispatch for advice. Crowd of passers-by gathers around bus to assist Bird Sitter as Freaked Out Bird stares down from roof.

Local Shopkeeper provides ladder and broom. Stranger and I steady ladder as Bird Sitter ascends side of bus. Freaked Out Bird flutters just out of reach. Repeatedly.

Bird Sitter begins cursing all things feathered. Freaked Out Bird feels ashamed. Flies off bus and onto nearby building fire escape. Relieved crowd disperses.

What will become of the winged thing? And did it have a MetroCard?

Back on bus. I feel smug. Team Bird people cheer; Team Gripe people gripe.

Suddenly, at front of bus, a third type of New Yorker emerges: Team Driver. Folks who fear for Alarmed Driver’s now-jeopardized job. Not his fault that bus was brutally violated by a six-inch bird! They will testify on his behalf! Alarmed Driver appreciates that. I am ashamed. Had not thought of Alarmed Driver’s awkward position during bird mutiny.

Three types of New Yorkers, divided by a beak. Did I pick the right team?

Originally Published at http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/a-city-divided-by-a-beak/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0


“What the He’ll?” in the “Huffington Post”

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“What the He’ll?”

By Alison Grambs

Like most Americans, I like to complain.

Whatever has irked me – be it a problem at work, a squabble with my parents, a politician’s latest scandal, a friend’s thoughtless remark, or just a spontaneous burst of exasperation with my life in general, I relish in the rant. Also like most Americans, when I’m having a bad day, I think it only fair to let everyone know it – a goal readily met thanks to the wonders of text messaging technology. Within seconds I am able to disseminate my missives of misery to anyone I deem worthy, invoking references to Satan’s domain to get my point across effectively.

“WHO THE HELL DOES HE THINK HE IS?!”

“WELL, SHE CAN JUST GO TO HELL AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED!”

“WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN?!”

Yes, it feels good to vent with the tip of my finger. Only trouble is, I have the new iPhone and it doesn’t believe in Hell.

No matter how I attempt to manipulate my elitist 4G’s virtual keyboard – be it by capping the letters, or placing them in quotation marks, or adding a space bar, or tucking them in parentheses – my iPhone simply will not allow me to write the word “Hell.” Instead, without explanation, this Puritanical pest, for which I paid a great deal of money, routinely modifies the most important word in my lexicon of lividness to “He’ll”.

“WHY THE HE’LL WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?!” I’ve inadvertently texted my husband when he uses our dishwasher to wash his socket wrenches.

“WHEN HE’LL FREEZES OVER!!!!!” my tirades to friends have bellowed when I’m asked to do something unpleasant like wear taffeta to a party or baby-sit their kids.

“I LOOK LIKE HE’LL!!!!!” I’ve spewed to my mother when my attempts at cutting my own hair result in me looking like Caligula’s twin sister.

Once, I even sent a hapless friend searching high and low on iTunes for a song by AC/DC called, “Highway To He’ll.”

Yes, it seems my ‘smart’ phone has no interest in acknowledging the existence of that most Southern region where the sin-ridden burn for eternity. I have been robbed of my Constitutional right to type one of my favorite expletives. Needless to say, it is frustrating as all he’ll.

After weeks of trying to annihilate this loathsome punctuation mark that was haunting all my texts, I decided it was time to take action. No longer willing to be censored by a 4.8 ounce brick of bossiness, I made an appointment at the Apple Store in Manhattan. Come he’ll or high water, I was going to force one of those Genius dudes to perform a reverse exorcism. Put the devil back into my iPhone, so to speak. Or, if that could not be accomplished, I’d do my best Norma Rae impression – leaping onto the Genius bar, cardboard “SET ME FREE FROM THE APOSTROPHE!!” sign held high over my head, and demand a less opinionated iPhone altogether.

“TRAFFIC IS HE’LL !” I texted my husband as I stormed off the downtown bus and began hoofing it through Central Park towards the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue.

“THIS STUPID PHONE CAN GO TO HE’LL!!!” I seethed, as I mowed my way through the crowds on the pathway, through the Meadow, and the Boat House, past the Alice In Wonderland statue and the playground.

“DAMMIT ALL TO HE’LL!!!!” I tapped out, quickening my pace as I wound my way around half-naked sun worshippers, map-wielding tourists, and the hot dog vendor who charges customers for napkins.

With every “Hell” I attempted to type… and every “He’ll” my iPhone spit back…I got angrier and angrier.

And then it happened.

Head bent down and eyes too consumed with texting rage to focus on the trail, I plowed smack into the wrought-iron fence of the Central Park Zoo.

“OUCH!” I texted my husband, rubbing my bruised knee as I steadied myself against the waist-high fence. From where I stood, I had a clear view of the sea lion exhibit where a pair of cocky Pinnipeds were pointing and laughing at me.

“I’M IN HE’LL!!!!” I fumed to my husband as I glared up at the heavens, and shook my fist, cursing Steve Jobs for this latest injustice.

Directly above me towered a tremendous tree. Majestic, with plush, green leaves and thick limbs that reached out like welcoming arms. How had I never noticed it before? I bent down to pick up my keys that had fallen from my hand, and spotted something – barely visible from the path, if one doesn’t, say, walk into the fence.

Propped up against the base of the tree was an 8 x 10 photograph sealed in a plastic sheath. The photo was of a beautiful young woman with wavy, brown hair, cradling a smiling baby over her bare shoulder. With her head turned to the right, tilted just slightly downward, she was nuzzling the tip of her nose just shy of the baby’s cheek, and I was instantly struck by her smile. So spontaneous and organic that, for a moment, I envied the sheer contentment with life that woman was feeling at that very moment. Her joy simply could not be concealed and she wanted the world to know it. The baby’s face caught my eye next. The toothless smile so wide and her eyes looking right at the camera as if she was ready to take on the world, one tiny giggle at a time.

I must have read the handwritten note tacked to the upper right corner of the photo a dozen times, mouthing the words with quivering lips because they suddenly felt like the most important words ever written. Next to the snapshot lay a bouquet of petite pink, white and yellow roses and two plush teddy bears that were showing their wear from being laid out in the open air since June 26th, 2010 – the day six month-old Gianna Ricciutti and her mother posed for a photograph – the day a limb broke off that majestic tree, robbing two young parents of their new baby daughter, and tearing a hole through the city’s collective heart.

Perching myself on a nearby bench, I cried. The kind of cry that makes your throat sting, and your ears itch, and your tummy burn. I cried for little Gianna’s parents. I cried for the woman she will never grow up to be. I cried at the cruelty of it all. How could a tree so beautiful take the life of a child? I studied the people strolling down the pathway en mass – the cooing couples, the chattering nannies, the briefcase toting businessmen, and the scrambling children giggling with balloons and popsicles in hand. They all looked so ridiculous to me suddenly. So unforgivably oblivious.

“Dammit, people. Look at that tree!” I pleaded with all of them telepathically. “Don’t you see what happened here?”

For some reason, I wanted, no, I needed everyone to see what I was seeing. Feel what I was feeling. But they didn’t. The crowds just kept walking by that tree – locked in their own realities – just as I had been so many times before. As the crowds bustled past me, I kept staring at that tree. And as I did, something began to happen. I suddenly felt as though I was in on a big secret. Somehow fortunate to be noticing what no one else was.

“R U OK?” a text message from my husband glowed on my iPhone screen.

I thought about it. Yes. I was okay. In fact, I was better than okay.
“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED ?????” he texted next with more question marks than any self-respecting man should use.

“DON’T USE THAT WORD,” I typed back thoughtfully. “I LUV U.”

My revelation made me smile. My iPhone knew something I didn’t. It was time to stop exaggerating my own petty miseries because, compared to some people, I didn’t know the first thing about just how hellish life can be. In its own, mysterious 4G network way, my iPhone was ordering me to stop focusing on everything that was wrong in my life, and start appreciating everything that was right. A fight with my parents? I was lucky to have them around at all. A bad day at work? How fortunate I am to have a job. A friend did something stupid for the eighth time this week? Well, I’d done some colossally stupid things, too, and she kept me around.

As the orange hue of dusk rolled in over the Manhattan sky and the park cleared out to an eerie state of emptiness, I knelt down in front of that tree and whispered a silent prayer for the Ricciutti family. I vowed to focus on the blessings in my life. Look for the proverbial apostrophe, so to speak.

Since that day, I visit that tree a few times a week. I cry every time. Funny how it can feel so good to feel so sad sometimes. The photograph and note are both still there, just as obscured by the fence as they were before. So are the petite pink, white and yellow roses, and the two teddy bears.

But I noticed one thing has changed.

Maybe something has shifted in the universe. Or perhaps I’m just seeing the world a bit differently. But I swear each time I sit at that bench and look at that tree, it seems everyone around me is seeing that tree, too. It’s as though that tree is drawing people to it lately – a reminder of how our lives can change in an instant. Children stop running, nannies stop yelling, couples stop chatting. They all take a moment to step off the beaten path and focus on little Gianna’s photo. Sometimes the people cry. Sometimes they hug. Sometimes they just shake their heads and walk away. But they all notice that tree, and look just a little bit different when they walk away from it. And man, that makes me really happy.

As for my iPhone, I never went to the Genius Bar at Apple that day. Turns out my 4.8 ounce brick of bossiness is the best thing that’s happened to me in a while. It made me appreciate life’s apostrophes.

Originally Published at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/one-for-the-table/what-the-hell_b_712162.html

“HOLDING HANDS”

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“Holding Hands” 

by Alison Grambs

A few months ago I was walking home from work along a side street of Manhattan. Casually strolling towards me was a distinguished man and woman who looked to be in their mid-seventies.

They were holding hands. I was holding my cell phone.

They were quietly talking to each other through matching warm smiles. I was not-so quietly yelling at my husband through the receiver.

The casual pace with which this couple strolled suggested they had not a care in the world. I, on the other hand, was feeling burdened by every care in the world as I ranted into the phone about whatever debacle had occurred in my life that day.

As the couple drew closer, gradually closing the gap between us, the path became too narrow to accommodate all three of us, and soon we were entangled in that awkward step-to-this-side-step-to-that-side dance New Yorkers get stuck in when trying to politely share a confined space. Toning down my fury long enough to acknowledge present circumstances, I shimmied to the right to give the pleasant couple room to pass. They simultaneously stepped to the same side, indicating I should pass. I waved them on with insistence, as if to say, You seem happy. I’m miserable. Please, go first. The kindly couple, however, remained fixed in place, more than happy to give me first passage. I nodded appreciatively, eager to resume my ranting to my husband on the phone, and moved forward.

My efforts were soon thwarted, however, by another oncoming pedestrian, this one wearing a coat so bulky she instantly swallowed up the entire physical space I was hoping to pass through. Soon, what seemed like an onslaught of additional passers-by were scurrying around the couple and me on both sides. There was nowhere to go. We were positively stuck in place. Once again, our impromptu threesome found itself shifting back and forth in what seemed like an endless waltz of “step to the left/step to the right” maneuvers, the couple holding hands throughout it all.

A quick study of the area and a solution became apparent to me. If the couple could just break hands for one moment, I could pass through the middle and get on with my life. A rolling of my eyes… an audible grunt… I wanted to do both, for everything about our silly situation suggested pragmatism take precedence over romantics. But this couple made it clear they were not letting go of each other’s hands for anything. And for reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, I simply smiled and stood there in wait.

It got me thinking about how often my husband and I have been in similar situation, holding hands on the street, only to suddenly find ourselves caught up in a clumsy dosey-doe with someone approaching from the other direction. How often, in such situations, my husband and I err on the side of practicality, momentarily breaking our physical connection so that some stranger can shave maybe, oh, six seconds off his or her travel time.

Suddenly, such pragmatism seemed all wrong.

We’ve been married for over a decade now. Some of those years we held hands a lot; and some, not so much. There have been stretches during which we’ve felt incredibly close, and our physical interaction reflected that. Yet, like most marriages, there have also been stretches during which my husband and I have felt a bit disconnected. Work stress. Family stress. Money stress. Emotional stress. Life just has a way of getting in the way of holding hands.

And that is so very, very wrong.

We hold onto our smart phones… we hold onto our grocery bags… we hold onto our key chains… we hold onto our Starbucks coffee cups. But how easily we let go of our lover’s hands. Such a simple gesture, containing such a powerful message. And yet, it is often one of the first things we sacrifice in this modern world of multitasking.

So, it was with awe that I observed this couple before me on the street, unwilling to break their bond, even for just a few seconds. I suppose some New Yorkers would consider such a couple annoying, maybe even selfish. How dare they hold up traffic just because they’re in love! But to me, what they had was enviable. Although I’ll never know the details of their personal circumstances, I imagine couple had been together a long time. I imagine they had worked hard to find each other in this world – and worked even harder to beat the odds and remain a pair when so many other pairs were breaking in half around them.

I think of the widows and widowers I’ve known who can no longer hold hands with their spouses. Twosomes that turn into onesomes, parsed either by tragedy or romantic failure, forced to downgrade from a two-cup coffee maker to a single-cup coffee maker. No hands to hold.

It’s a gift of sorts, I suppose, to be able to hold the hand of someone you love. To intertwine fingers, press palm to palm, squeamishly embrace the sweatiness of each other’s skin on a hot day, or rub skin against skin to create warmth on a cold one. Holding hands is a silent way of telling someone that you’ve got their back. Such a simple gesture. So seemingly inconsequential in the grand scheme of the things; and yet, as integral to a relationship as talking, hugging, cuddling, kissing, or even making love.

Holding hands is often the first experience we have in our lives with physical intimacy, and just as often, the last. As newborn babies freshly transplanted from the coziness of the womb, it is the stabilizing touch of a parent’s fingers intertwining with our panicked tiny ones that softens the shock of the new world. Likewise, for those of us facing the end, it is the comfort of a loved one holding our quivering hand that sends us off into the beyond without quite so much fear. Hand holding is the casual squeeze between two acquaintances on a date that signals, yes, this could lead to more. It is the hand of a friend in need being held by the hand of a friend ready to serve that need. It is the healthy comforting the sick, the strong leading the weak, and the old guiding the young.

Yes, the holding of hands is all of these things… if we let it be. I remember when I was little, walking with my father along the intimidating streets of New York, my diminutive hand tucked deep inside his manly one. Sometimes my dad would slow his stride for me, and sometimes, it was up to me to just find a way to keep up, even if it required that I sort of job alongside him like a Secret Service agent in a Presidential motorcade. No matter how difficult doing so proved for me, however, I absolutely would not let go of my father’s hand. If his pace quickened, so did mine; if his pace slowed, mine did as well. And as far as I was concerned, any feisty New Yorker getting annoyed about not being able to pass, would simply have to go around us. Sure, I’d arrive at our destination drenched in sweat, my little heart beating under the weight of little palpitations. But I’d arrive there as part of a team, and that’s all that mattered.

In the modest lower Manhattan church my parents attend regularly, there comes a time during every service that the Reverend instructs the congregation to walk over to one another and wish each other The Peace. I spend much of my time sitting in the pew dreading this meet-and-greet being forced upon me by a higher power. My mother used to be the same way – a bundle of nerves worrying about who among the crowd would welcome our hello, and who might shrink away.

But now, as the years have forced our family to cope with more downs than ups, I notice the enthusiasm with which Mom now approaches this opportunity to touch hands with her fellow parishioners. The woman runs Iditarod-like lengths throughout the sanctuary to extend a warm welcome to friends and strangers alike.

I’ve always loved my mother’s hands. They are beautiful hands. Hands that speak with a gentle, but firm grasp, as if to say, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve felt a lot. I’m here if you need me. They are the consoling hands that still hold mine when I’m having a bad day (which is often at age forty-two.) They are the loving hands that still intertwine with my father’s after over forty years of marriage.

Back on the sidewalk, a few more passers-by continued to hold our awkward threesome in place on that narrow street. And still, the couple refused to break grasp of one another. I admired the heck out of that. When the sidelines eventually did clear, our eyes met once again as the three of us tacitly acknowledged the humor of the situation we had just shared. Then I stepped far to the left to resume my phone call with my husband, and the couple stepped far to the left to resume their stroll.

In real time, of course, our interaction was little more than a fleeting moment that couple has most assuredly since forgotten. But to me, it was nothing short of mind-blowing. We should take more walks, I announced to my husband, no longer mad at whatever I’d been mad at. And Jesus, let’s make a vow to not let go of each other’s hands so easily from now on, okay? I thought to myself.

Hand holding isn’t always easy, and it’s certainly not always practical, especially in Manhattan. But we will do it more often now because it is nothing short of a privilege to have someone’s hand to hold. Such a privilege should not be taken lightly.

As the couple passed by, and continued strolling down the block, I stopped to look back at them one last time and smiled. More pedestrians were coming towards them now, but they simply would not let anyone come between them.

Their hands remained tightly clasped.

I hope they do so for a very long time.

“Unabridged Signs That Tell It Like It Is” in “MAD” Magazine

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“MAD” MAGAZINE ISSUE #540

https://www.madmagazine.com/issues