Everything I Ever Wrote: The Funny Stuff (Part I)


Still Grandparents, No Matter What Name They Go By

smiling woman wearing black and white top resting head on right hand
Photo by Luizmedeirosph on Pexels.com

Growing up, they were always Grandmom and Grandpop. When I was in a hurry, it was Grandma and Grandpa. All my friends called theirs Grandmom and Grandpop. Life was so darn simple.

So, imagine my confusion when my sister Lauren’s three kids – Josh, Justin and Jessica – all starting calling our parents Uppie and NaNa.

Wait, there’s more.

After a quick survey, I uncovered the following names that some of my friend’s kids call their grandparents: YaYa, Mom-Mom, Row Row and TuTu.

What gives?

I asked my sister why her kids called our parents Uppie and NaNa.

“Uppie is what Dad called his grandfather,” Lauren explained.

“No way,” I said. Being the older brother, I love telling Lauren and Debra when they’re wrong. And, believe it or not, they don’t seem to mind one little bit.

“Dad never even met his grandparents,” I said.

My father’s parents left their respective old countries – Czechoslovakia and Hungary – long before my father was born, leaving their parents and his future grandparents behind forever.

“Well, that’s what he told me,” Lauren said. “You’re the big-shot reporter, why don’t you find out.”

See, I told you she doesn’t get mad when I correct her!

“I had an aunt and uncle,” my father began. “Everyone called him Uppie, which is Hungarian for father, and her Unyaca. He was a rather wonderful, kind, patient man. When your sister asked me what I wanted to be called, I said Uppie.”

OK, we’re halfway home.

“Unyaca sounds too much like an onion, so I didn’t want to be called that,” my mother said.

I told my mother that, according to Lauren, she was NaNa because that’s what came out of Josh’s mouth when he first learned to speak.

Wrong again Lauren!

“I picked NaNa,” NaNa explained. “There was this really neat older woman I was friends with and her grandchildren called her NaNa. Her great grandchildren called her NaNa-NaNa.”

So, all I have to say to Lauren is: NaNa-NaNa!

My friend Howard’s daughter Amy calls her grandfather YaYa.

“I gather it’s because Amy couldn’t pronounce Zaideh, which is Yiddish for grandfather,” Joe told me when asked how he became YaYa.

Sorry Joe, not even close.

“He just thinks she couldn’t pronounce it,” Howard said. “She just wanted to change it and when she started calling him YaYa my mother thought it sounded really cute.”

Amy calls YaYa’s wife Mom-Mom.

“I don’t know why, I just always called her that,” Amy said.

Kathy and Rich’s twins, Lee and Blair, call their grandmothers Row Row and TuTu.

Row Row?

“When they were little, she always sang Row Row Row Your Boat to them,” Rich said.


person wearing blue denim jacket riding red canoe boat
Photo by Andy Vu on Pexels.com

“Supposedly its TuTu is Hawaiian for grandmother,” Rich said. “When the twins were born my parents were living in Hawaii and we went to visit them. They screamed and cried the whole way (on the airplane); the people sitting near us won’t ever forget that trip.”

The screaming and crying doesn’t have anything to do with how they came up with TuTu, but is too good not to include.

If you have any more wacky, interesting or amusing names for grandparents, send them to me, along with an explanation.

October 21, 1996 … Bucks County (PA) Intelligencer


Note: I checked … and it seems Dad might not have his story correct either. The Hungarian word for father is “apa.” I couldn’t find “uppie” on any of the Hungarian-word websites. Oh well, why let the facts get in the way of a great family story. He’s an Uppie, his uncle was an Uppie, and that’s that.

Another Note: After this column ran, people began sending me in the names of their grandparents. I think I wrote eight or nine Grandmomism columns. Got a good one? Send it to me.


Skirmish Unveils True Natures

We boarded the bus as strangers, a bunch of raw recruits, nervous and scared, hoping we’d have what it took when the paintballs started flying.

By the end of the day, we were hardened combat veterans, exhausted yet intoxicated by the sweet taste of sweat and blood. We compared war wounds and bragged about our skills, and our exploits seemed to grow in stature and sheer bravery with each retelling.

I learned a lot about myself during my day at Pocono Whitewater Adventures playing paintball, but even more about my friend and fellow reporter here at The Intelligencer, James Wilkerson.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Pasty-faced, balding and slightly pudgy, James is a computer geek and proudly boasts the only exercise he gets is parking his car in the back of lots. He’s never met an athlete he didn’t make fun of and actually brags about being picked last – “after the 200-pound girl” – in every game he was forced to play during recess.

But when our Skirmish (what this particular paintball place called their game) began, I witnessed a miraculous transition.

James became John Wayne.

He raced through the forest, leaped over rocks, fired deadly shots on the run and bellowed orders, using words like flank and perimeter.

But first, before I tell you about the Legend of James, a little background. Paintball combat games have become quite popular recently and Skirmish is one of the biggest, with 39 fields covering 700 acres. Armed with specially designed guns with carbon dioxide cartridges that shoot marble-sized paintballs at 190 miles per hour, the object is to capture the other team’s flag and bring it back to home base.

If you get hit and the paintball breaks, which it almost always does, splashing you with pink paint, you’re dead and out of the game. “You can really get bruised by ‘em,” someone said.

“I’ve seen people bleed,” his buddy added.

“I’m not playing,” James said.

We boarded the bus and headed to our combat field, getting a safety briefing from our drill instructor on the way.

His name was Mambo.


Mambo told us how important it was to wear our safety goggles at all times and promised to kick anyone who removed them out of the game – and not refund their money. “If you get hit in the eye, you’re blind,” Mambo warned.

“I’m not playing,” James said.

Mambo then warned us not to shoot anyone if we were closer than 10 feet because “it can cause bleeding.”

“I’m not playing,” James said.

Too late: The first war game began…

James and I, members of the white team, worked out way up the middle of the 10-acre playing field. As we advanced, hiding behind trees, I spotted two members of the yellow team in the thick bushes. Even better, they didn’t see me.

I snuck up and started firing.

Before I knew what had happened or the implications of what I was doing, they were both covered in pink and very, very dead.

Then, I heard James yell.

“Cover me, I see a yellow guy up to the right,” he shouted.

I covered him as James raced toward the enemy, shooting and dodging behind trees as he ran, going at a surprisingly fast clip. He nailed the yellow guy in the ribs and he was dead before he hit the ground.

“Follow me,” James yelled, the sweat glistening off his giant forehead and the veins bulging in his pasty-white-neck.

What choice did I have but to follow?

James killed another yellow guy and before we knew it, we were a few yards from the enemy flag. While I covered him, James raced out into the open and grabbed the flag.

We started running.

“Stay on my left flank,” James ordered. There wasn’t time for him to explain what a flank was because…

An enemy sniper jumped out from behind a tree and a paintball whizzed by James’ head. Another sniper appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. He was 15 feet in front of James and had him clearly in his sights.

“JAMES!” I screamed…

You’ll have to read my next column to find out what happens.

July 20, 1997 … Intelligencer


‘Battle’ Proved A Grueling Trial

“JAMES!” I screamed. It was too late.

Before he could raise his rifle, James’ chest was dripping pink paint. He turned and looked at me. He smiled a brave smile, winked … and was dead. There would be plenty of time later to mourn my courageous friend. But first, I had work to do. It’s what James would have wanted.

I ran over and picked up the flag.

There were at least two more yellow guys around me and the air was filled with streaking pink paintballs. One, two, three smashed into the tree I took cover behind. The enemy was getting closer and I was running out of time … and ammunition. My only hope was to make a run for the thick underbrush.

man holding rifle
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I took a deep breath, squeezed off a few quick shots to pin down the enemy and started running, serpentine style like Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in The In-Laws. Paintballs whizzed by, exploding against trees. I reached the underbrush and dove in, headfirst.

I was safe, for now … and began working my way back to home base.

I could hear firefights in the distance. As the sounds got louder, I knew I was closing in on home base. I neared it and saw three enemy soldiers hunkered down in a bunker. And they could see me. I planted myself behind a thick tree and paintballs exploded all around me.

“White team,” I shouted. “Any white team members around here – I’m pinned down.”

There was no answer.

I was alone.

I fired a shot and made a wild dash for another tree, one farther from the enemy. Suddenly, I felt a sharp stinging sensation in my back.

I was hit.

I reached back and tried to feel if there was any paint on me. I couldn’t feel any.

“Paint check, paint check,” I yelled.

A judge came over, inspected my back and told me I was still alive.

There was no time to celebrate the whole still-being-alive thing, as the three yellow soldiers were still there … and I was still in trouble.

I decided to make another run for the underbrush.

The paintballs whizzed by, but I kept serpentining and they kept missing. I felt like Stallone in one of his Rambo movies. You know, the ones where 30 bad guys with submachine guns have him in their sights and blast thousands of rounds at him, but every single one misses and Rambo fires like 12 shots and takes out nine of the bad guys.

But this wasn’t the movies … and I wasn’t Rambo.

Before I could reach the safety of the underbrush, I saw a pink blur coming at me. Then another.


The first paintball exploded against a tree inches from me. The next smashed into my shoulder. It didn’t explode by left a nasty purple welt.

The next one landed a inch higher … and exploded all over me … leaving a gooey and fatal mess on my shoulder.

I’m hit!

I feel weak … it’s getting darker and hazier … too tired to write any more … I’ll just rest for a …

July 22, 1997 … Intelligencer

Note: I recently received a text from James: “Today threw out 25 years of clips. I kept most of yours though”

My text back: “I know I’ve been going through the stacks and trying to reduce … was just reading the paintball columns that made you famous”

James: “I enjoyed those. I kept them”

Wow, he kept some of my columns. OK, I’m sure they’re the ones in which I wrote about him, but still … wow. James isn’t the sentimental type. Then again, scratch beneath the surface of his surly, pasty-faced exterior and inside is the soul of a poet. A tormented, dark poet, but a poet nevertheless.

Here’s an actual photo of James, from recently (he hasn’t changed a bit!)



What Women Want

Unlike Mel Gibson’s character in What Women Want, I can’t read women’s minds.

Or my wife’s handwriting.

However, unlike Mel’s character, I’m a newspaper reporter/columnist and can ask women what they want, and then totally listen to and care about their answers – or at least pretend to totally listen and care.

So, I asked several women what it is they want from us men and…

Debra (my sister, who lives in England): “When my friends used to ask me what I was looking for in a husband, I would say that all I really wanted was someone who had a short last name and was taller than 6 feet. I found Ken.”

Ken is about 6-feet, 4-inches tall and my 4-foot-10-inch sister went from Debra Wartenberg to Debra Corey. She lost five letters and found a husband.

man wearing dress shirt holding dandelion
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Mercy: “Women want a man who can both listen and talk. It seems there are a lot of good listeners and a lot of men who love to hear themselves talk. What a woman wants is a man who can do both.”

Are we also supposed to be able to chew gum at the same time?

Kim: “My turn on the couch with total control of the remote while my husband tackles the ‘tower of terror’ in the laundry room.”

Amy: “For men to stop trying to find some magic answer to this question.”

Amy’s poor husband must be totally confused.

Claire: “We don’t know what we want; we want a man who knows what we want!”

Claire’s husband must be even more confused than Amy’s husband.

Fiona (one of Debra’s British friends): “We still dream of a cross between James Bond and the man in the Milk Tray adverts.”

I checked with Fiona, and Cadbury makes Milk Tray chocolates and, in the adverts (which is British for TV commercials), the Milk Tray guy is handsome and mysterious and he sky dives, skis and swims past sharks to deliver chocolates to women and then “vanishes out the window and absails (this is either British for sails or Fiona is a really bad typist) away so the woman never knows who he really is. The key is mystery and romance – someone who will go to all lengths to please his lady.”

Joyce (my mother-in-law): “A sense of humor and he has to be a Democrat or at least left of center, and smarter than me.”

Oh, the jokes I’ve refrained from adding!

tattooed man in black crew neck t shirt and red knit beanie
Photo by Derick Santos on Pexels.com

Susan (my wonderful and beloved wife): “I want you to always hear and remember everything that I say and do; a new outfit with boots to match; a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant where we can talk; and chocolate … and stop writing about me in your stupid column!”

Victoria (my sister-in-law): “Shoes!”

Freda: “A man who knows his way around the washing machine, how to listen without offering unsolicited advice, likes to dance and doesn’t look ridiculous doing it … and he puts the lid down.”

Sandy: “Funny, sensitive, sympathetic to our needs, really listens, will pitch in and do a load of laundry without being asked and, this is a clincher, replaces the empty toilet-paper roll and puts it the right way!”

Women do seem a bit obsessed with laundry and toilets. And yet, I bet the Milk Tray guy never did a load of laundry in his life. OK, I’m out of space … and I’ll leave it up to all you men out there to heed the advice of these wise women.

December 24, 2000 … Intelligencer

Note: Soon after this column came out…


What Men Want

It seems my recent column about what women want from men sparked a lot of interest … from men. Several responded, telling me what they want from women. Now remember, this is what they want, not what I want. So, don’t get mad at me.

Dave Bayer wrote: “Let’s put it in Hogan’s Heroes’ terms; we want a Sgt. Schultz – ever faithful, but a bit ditzy.”

Yo, Dave, are you sure you want a woman, who, every time things get a little romantic, says: “I see nothing! I see nothing!”

woman standing near lemon plants
Photo by Davide De Giovanni on Pexels.com

Al DeVries sent a lengthy e-mail with about 40 things he wants from women. He obviously put a lot more time and effort into his response than I put into the actual, original column, which is exactly what I’m looking for from readers.

Some of the things Al wants are:

*If you think you’re fat, you probably are. Do not ask us, we refuse to answer.

*Do not cut your hair. Ever! Long hair is always more attractive than short hair.

*Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work. Strong hints do not work. Just say it! Better yet, go get it yourself and give it to us to give to you.

*Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That’s what we do. Sympathy is what girlfriends are for.

*Check your oil … please!

*Whenever possible, please say what you have to say during commercials.

To sum up: Al, who has been married six times (only kidding), wants a thin, long-haired woman who is straightforward, mechanical, strong and concise.

Uncle Wes wrote to say he took issue with Mercy’s desire for a man who can both listen and talk.

woman girl beauty mask
Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

“Men DO listen,” he began. “You can catch every fifth sentence and still get the whole story. It’s like watching soaps. You watch once a month and can catch up completely. Men just need the facts. Women have to relive every moment in living color, with aromas, tastes and lots of touchy feely.”

I think Al and Uncle Wes would hit it off.

Mike Russo also got into the spirit of the debate.

“I can’t speak for all my brothers, but as for me, if I met a woman who is into the arts – music, drama, etc. – has faith in God, a wicked sense of humor, can sing, enjoys the childlike aspects of life, knows how to take care of themselves, wants someone for the long term, wouldn’t mind having kids, and can deal with my schedule of day job and working actor/musician, then I’d consider a date.”

Sorry Mike, but I’m not running a dating service here in this column, you’ll have to find this perfect woman all by yourself.

There you have it ladies, what several men out there want from women. And remember, this is what they want, not me. So, you know who to get mad at.

January 7, 2001 … Intelligencer


How To Be A Superhero

While I may be a mild-mannered reporter at a great metropolitan newspaper, I’m hardly Superman. I mean, come on; I have arthritis in my right hip, a surgically repaired left elbow and three crowns in my mouth.

And then, out of the blue, in the midst of a normal day, I had the chance to do something downright heroic. It was New Year’s Eve day (December 31), and I was doing some errands. I stopped at the Just Pies shop to get a … that’s right … a pie. They don’t call it Just Pies for nothing.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

The parking lot of the shop is on a bit of a hill. I parked, left my car in first gear and pulled on the parking brake.

Superheroes are good parkers, especially Spiderman (Peter Parker!).

Got out of my car, and noticed the minivan parked next to me was slowly – ever-so slowly – rolling backwards. The owner hadn’t put on the parking/emergency brake and it was inching its way down the hill and onto busy N. High Street and was seconds away from creating all sorts of mayhem.

Holy fender bender, Batman!

A million thoughts raced through my mind: Should I run into the store, alert the driver and then fly back out and get behind the minivan and hold it back?

Was there time to do this before it rolled down into High Street? Should I could pretend I hadn’t seen a thing and do nothing?

person in spiderman costume
Photo by Life of Wu on Pexels.com

This non-heroic, downright cowardly thought quickly vanished and, in the blink of an eye, I sprang into action, and raced into the store. “Your car is rolling backwards,” I shouted to the only customer inside – an elderly woman. Then, I flew back out the door, leapt behind the minivan and began to push with everything I had, arthritic hip and bad elbow be dammed.

The woman, ever so slowly, walked out of the store and toward her minivan. She was moving at the speed of Snailwoman, one of the least known superheroes. She finally got to the driver’s side door – and realized she’d left her keys inside the pie shop.

“Are you kidding me lady?” I silently screamed in a pitch only dolphins and Aquaman could hear.

“I’m sorry,” she said and slowly, ever so slowly, walked back into the shop, as I pushed, gritted my teeth – praying my three crowns held out. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the woman re-emerged from the store and slowly walked her way to her minivan and pulled on the parking brake.


Once we were both safely inside the pie shop, the woman kindly offered to pay for my pie order. “No, that’s OK,” I said. Superheroes don’t accept rewards. She insisted, and I accepted a pecan pie.

Later that night, as midnight and the New Year approached, I couldn’t help wondering what my superhero brethren were doing at this very moment. They were probably all gathered at some super-secret party at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

Oh well, maybe I’ll be invited this year.

February 27, 2012 … Columbus (OH) Dispatch


I’m Number One … In Seinfeld

The occupation of the Bubble Boy’s father?

He delivered Yoo-hoo.

Cousin Jeffrey’s favorite animal?

Duh, the leopard. He likes the spots.

Too easy. Instead of giving you the question, here are two answers: Cherry Binaca and $98. You come up with the answers.

Of course, by now you’ve figured out thesequestions are all about Seinfeld, the show about nothing that nevertheless provided us with tons of very specific information about Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine. And Newman. While I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday (oatmeal? cereal?) or the name of what’s his face who I worked with for years at the Columbus Dispatch, I do know that: The actor Brian Reddy was the high talker … and Jerry lived at 129 W. 81st Street.

Hell, I lived in Manhattan for a year, not far from Jerry, and can’t remember the number of my street. It was W. 107th I think. No wait, it was W. 105th. Hey, it was all the way back in the 1980s.

And now, at long last, I’ve found an outlet for my encyclopedic Seinfeld knowledge: The Seinfeld trivia category on the QuizUp app. And, drum roll: I’m No. 1 in all of Ohio!seinfeld

Here’s how QuizUp works: You log onto the app, hit the Seinfeld button (there are lots of other categories) and “they” find you a random opponent somewhere in the world. There are Seinfeld fanatics everywhere. I just played the No. 1 in Croatia (and crushed him!), someone from Singapore, Indonesia and three recent games were against British Seinfeld fanatics. A whole bunch of Brits seem to be into Seinfeld. I’ve only lost one game in the last 50, to Mike from Towson, who’s No. 1 in Maryland.

In each game, there are six multiple-choice questions, and you can score up to 20 points per correct answer, based on how quickly you answer the question. The faster you hit the correct answer, the more points you get. Then, there’s a bonus round worth 40 points. A score of 160 is possible, and my best-ever score is 158. It can get kind of intense when it’s neck-and-neck and comes down to the bonus round.

The state, country and worldwide rankings are based on a complicated point-accrual system I don’t fully understand. It seems playing a lot is more important than your winning percentage, which they also track.

So, the more you play, even if you lose, the higher your ranking. I’d play more, but hey, you can only go to the bathroom so many times a day. Plus, the more I play, the less time I have to watch Seinfeld.

Brennan Ireland, from California, has played 32,300 games and is the all-time No. 1 in the world, ahead of Booster hater from California (62,400 games) and Bugman07 from Texas (28,100 games). How is it even possible to play 62,400 games of Seinfeld? It takes about 90 seconds to play a game, which means Booster hater has spent the equivalent of 65 entire days playing Seinfeld.

 BTW: Cherry Binaca is what Elaine sprayed in Crazy Joe Davola’s face, and $98 is how much George had to pay the video store after he lost Rochelle, Rochelle, a young girl’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk. But, I’m sure you already knew that.

January 1, 2018 … More Stuff Blog

Note: This is the first of several Seinfeld-related columns in this book (and the first entry from the More Stuff Blog I started a couple years ago). As you just discovered, I’m a bit of a Seinfeld fanatic and have written about Jerry and the gang several times over the years. In fact, I once met and ate the soup of the Soup Nazi. Oh what the hell … I was gonna save this column for later, but here you go…


No Soup For You!

Before I tell you all about the Soup Nazi and his crab bisque and chicken chili, I have an important bit of information for anyone taking a trip from Doylestown to Manhattan: There is no bathroom on the 8:45 Trans-Bridge bus!

I felt like Jerry and George in the parking garage episode.

            Fortunately, the bus pulled into the Port Authority in the nick of time and, after a quick stop, I walked over to Al Yaganeh’s Soup Kitchen International on the corner of 55th and Eighth, and took my place in the long line that kept getting longer. It was the day of the final episode of Seinfeld and all of New York was in a Jerry, George, Kramer, Elaine and Soup Nazi frenzy.

“He’s real, he’s really real,” shouted an annoying guy ahead of me in line.

The Soup Nazi and his soup really are real, and there he was, preparing crab bisque, chicken chili, lentil, mulligatawny, veal goulash, chicken broccoli, gazpacho and borscht.

I felt like Jerry in the Soup Nazi episode.

Melissa and Anne – two New Yorkers and Soup Nazi regulars – were in front of me and gave me a quick education. “I’m worried,” Melissa said of all the media hype, including scores of reporters and a crew from the Home Shopping Network. “He could get mad at everything going on and not even open. He’s done that before.”

“He’ll open,” I said. “He’s selling his soup on the Home Shopping Network tonight and isn’t about to toss aside the thousands of dollars he’ll make.”

“He’s totally sold out,” Anne said.

“That’s OK, as long as the soup’s still good,” Melissa said.

After waiting more than an hour, I was finally at the front of the line.

I was nervous, afraid I would somehow offend the Soup Nazi and he’d shout “No soup for you” at me. I calmed my nerves and, in a slow, steady voice, said: “Small crab bisque, small chicken chili.”

soup with minced herbs on round white ceramic plate
Photo by Naim Benjelloun on Pexels.com

            I handed him a $20, got back $5 – that’s right, it cost $15 for two small soups – and quickly moved all the way to the left and waited for my soup.

            He never even looked at me. But he gave me bread.

            And fruit!

            Clutching my bounty, I headed to Central Park, where I found a place to sit and opened my crab bisque. Jerry was right – this stuff really does make your knees weak. It’s jammed with chunks of succulent crab, and the broth was perfection. The chicken chili was equally magnificent.

soup with vegetables on white ceramic bowl
Photo by Votsis Panagiotis on Pexels.com

I finished and headed to the Museum of Television & Radio, which was continuously showing the pilot of Seinfeld, which, as all you Seinfeld experts know, was called The Seinfeld Chronicles. I paid the $6 fee to get into the museum, which meant I was basically paying $6 to see a Seinfeld rerun, and headed to the theater.

            As I was walking in, a guy in a postal uniform – I swear – was walking out.


            The pilot was interesting: George had a lot more hair; Kramer had a lot less hair – and he had a dog; Jerry was exactly the same, Elaine wasn’t in it.

            My Seinfeld day done, it was time to head home.

       Guess what? That’s right, no bathroom on the bus. I felt like George in the backwards episode in India.

May 19, 1998 … Intelligencer


Are You Banana Compatible?

Bananas are the ninth-leading cause of divorce in this country.

            I never believed this statistic until I got married and quickly learned Susan and I are banana incompatible. And, sure enough, since our nuptials, bananas have been an on-going problem in our otherwise perfect marriage. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve had to sleep in the garage after a big banana fight.

            And we don’t even have a garage.

            However, I recently devised an ingenious solution to our problem, and can’t wait to share it with all you other banana compatible couples out there. It’s my way of giving something back. And, if I’m eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for my heroic efforts, so much the better.banana

            But first, this just in from my nephew Justin: Why did the banana use sun block?

            So he wouldn’t peel!

            OK, here’s our banana issue: Susan likes to eat hers when they still have a little green on them and are barely ripe – which is pretty much the only way they sell them at the supermarket.

            To me, these yellowish-green bricks are way too hard and have no taste.

            I enjoy my bananas yellow with a few black speckles, which are nature’s flavor indicators. You rarely find them this way in the supermarket and have to let the yellowish-green ones ripen for a few days.

            “They taste too banana-ee,” Susan says of the speckled bananas, and she refuses to eat them.

            We argued, we fought, we cried and made up, promising to never again let bananas come between us, only to go through the whole darn thing again the next time I’d buy a bunch of bananas, only to find them all gone before they ripened the way I liked them. We went to the area’s leading marriage/fruit counselor, who suggested we switch to mangoes.

            We tried, but it just wasn’t the same.

            Cereal with sliced mangoes?


            We need our bananas; we need our potassium.

            Just when it looked as though things were hopeless and our marriage was doomed to become another banana casualty, I came up with my brilliant idea: On Sunday, I went to the supermarket and bought a bunch of yellow-green bananas – just the way Susan likes them.

            On Monday, Susan had one with her cereal, while I suffered in silence. On Wednesday, I went back to the supermarket and bought another batch of unripe bananas. And I went back on Friday and Sunday Monday and on and on and…

            By Thursday of that first week, the initial batch had ripened to perfection and I could finally enjoy one with my cereal, while Susan had one from Wednesday’s unripe batch. This was the first time in our married lives we could each enjoy our bananas the way we like them.

            Our marriage was saved!

            As long as I continue to go to the supermarket three or four times a week. This is a small price to pay for true banana happiness and wedded bliss. Now, if only I can solve our soft (Susan) vs. hard (me) scrambled egg conundrum – the 12th leading cause of divorce – life would be perfect.

February 10, 2000 … Intelligencer

Note: I heard from other banana incompatible readers after this column appeared.

Sharyn wrote: “For my household (just my husband and myself), once a week, I buy 7 bananas (from different bunches). We each eat one-half banana a day and luckily we both like them brown speckled. My husband eats his half banana with cereal for breakfast and is gone to work before I even get up. My husband makes a nifty little cover from banana skin for the exposed end of my one-half of the banana. Luckily, I like the stem end and he likes the other end. What do you call the other end of the banana anyway? These issues relating to banana ripeness and end preference are things that should probably be resolved before marriage.”

Sharyn is right: This is an issue that needs to be sorted out before the wedding.

            While I have never been able to discern a taste difference between one part of the banana from the other, my dentist (whose name was really Dr. Bash) read this and told me he only eats the ends of a banana.

            “Why?” I asked.

            “The ends are sweeter than the middle,” he said.

Stick A Fork In It: I May Be Done For

The danger has passed. I think. Maybe.

And, by passed, I mean literally passed through my GI tract. Not that I checked. Then again, this entire anxiety-inducing, loss-of-sleep and possibly life-threatening episode may have been a fork-induced false alarm (one of the five worst types of false alarms). Then again, it could be lodged in my heart. Or liver.

Let me explain…

I was at a local Central Ohio restaurant recently, one of those healthy, build-it-yourself places where you put kale, carrots and other nutritious stuff on top of purple rice. I was dining alone, was halfway through my meal and eating way too fast, as I’m prone to do. Suddenly, I look down at my plastic fork and notice one of the tines was gone. Snapped off at the base.

“That’s strange,” I thought to myself. “I wonder what happened to it?”


I looked on the tray, around the tray, on my lap, on the floor … and in my rice bowl. Nothing. No plastic tine. Just kale, carrots and the protein of my choosing.

“Oh no, it couldn’t be, could it? No way. I would have felt something going down, wouldn’t I? Yeah, I would have felt something sharp and pointy. There’s no way I could have swallowed it. No way. This fork came with a missing tine and I’m just now noticing it. That has to be it.”

Then again, I do eat really fast. Like super fast. I barely chew. And the tine is small and thin and all plasticky and … holy crap. Suddenly, it felt like there was something stuck in the back of my throat. Something small. And sharp. And it hurt. I tried coughing it up. Nothing. I tried again. Louder, harder. Several people looked over at me. A couple look worried, others looked annoyed.

“Sorry to bother everyone, I may have just swallowed a fork tine and could die! Is anyone here a doctor? A GI specialist?”

Nevertheless, despite the fact that my life may have been in peril, I continued eating. Hey, where I grew up you don’t waste food. But I ate a little slower and more carefully, and drank a lot of water. And tried to put the possibility that I had swallowed the tine out of my mind. But I couldn’t. The brain is funny that way. I began to feel discomfort in my throat and then in my neck. “Holy crap, it’s already lodged in my neck, it’s going to pierce my jugular and I’ll bleed out. Right here in this upscale and healthy, fast-casual restaurant.”

Later that day and for the next few, I felt tingling and stabbing sensations at various points along my GI tract as the tine worked its way through me. If I had swallowed it. The pains seemed to get worse and make themselves known in more and more place the more I thought about it. It be lodged in my heart at this very moment, about to poke through a ventricle. And I love my ventricles.

My next mistake was looking up “what happens when you swallow something sharp” on the internet. A woman who swallowed a toothpick developed nausea, vomiting and low blood pressure. Turns out the toothpick was lodged in her liver and caused an abscess and blood poisoning.

A doctor on a website that seemed legitimate suggested a trip to the ER after swallowing something sharp and pointy, like a toothpick. Seems a lot of people swallow toothpicks. Not so much with plastic fork tines.

The ER? No way, I have crappy health insurance. It would cost a fortune, what with all those tests, scans and operations to remove the tine lodged in my liver. And I’m not even sure I swallowed the damn tine. It would be totally embarrassing to go the ER, tell them what I think I may have swallowed, and for them to then tell me – after hours of tests, all the while wearing that humiliating gown that’s impossible to tie properly – that I hadn’t swallowed anything other than kale and carrots. I’ll wait it out a few days and see what happens. I’ll check to see if there’s blood in my urine or a searing pain in my gut that just won’t go away. Or my heart or liver. And then, maybe, probably, I’ll go to the ER. I might have a Groupon somewhere.

Maybe I should I ask Susan what to do. She was, after all, a nurse for 25 years and knows all about anatomy. Nah, she’ll get all worried, and then lecture me about mindful eating. “You eat so fast, do you even taste or enjoy your food? No wonder you swallowed a fork tine.”

It’s a couple weeks later and …

I’m fine. I think. I hope. I’m pretty sure I didn’t swallow a plastic fork tine (knock on wood). Then again, from time to time (tine to tine?) it does feel like something’s going on in my gut and my throat is a little scratchy. And my chest has been sore the past few days. And, since I started writing this post, a new pain in my liver has developed. Why did I have to go and Google it? And, how long did it take that lady who swallowed the toothpick to develop all those terrible symptoms and get an abscessed liver? A week? A month? Even more importantly, did it kill her? I better Google her and find out.

Then again, maybe that’s not such a good idea. Ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes to the mysterious case of the disappearing fork tine.

The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge: A Brand-New TV Show!

surgeons performing surgery
Photo by Павел Сорокин on Pexels.com


Have you binge-watched The Great British Baking Show or The Great British Interior Design Challenge? Millions have. Including me. And I don’t even like or understand interior design. These shows are so popular, lucrative and addictive that teams of great and not-so-great British television producers are scrambling and brainstorming to come up with the next big British televised thing.

The Brits may be screwing up Brexit, but they know how to make must-watch TV. How To Marry A Royal is one of the proposals.

I have been able to confirm that production has begun on The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge, and was able to snag an interview with Robert “Bobby” Birminghamshire, creator and producer of The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge.

Q: Bobby, where did the idea for this show come from?

A: We all felt the baking and interior design shows lacked the life-and-death consequences so many millions of viewers crave. Your cake is a little dry, your bedroom renovation is a bit too purple or over the top … so what? Where’s the drama in that? We’re the land of Shakespeare and your actions must have serious consequences. Surgery and all the complications that can result from surgery seemed ideal and quite fascinating. Every one of us on the production team has had a mum or a dad or a mate have something go horribly wrong during surgery. We were sitting around the office, sharing our amusing surgery stories, just cracking each other up, and it just suddenly struck us that this was the ideal show to do.

Q: What a bloody-good idea.

A: Please don’t ever use the term bloody in connection to our show or we will sue the trousers off you.

Q: Sorry. How will you find your contestants, the top amateur surgeons in England?

two person doing surgery inside room
Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. on Pexels.com


A: Great question. At first, we thought butchers would be our target group. We tested some of Britain’s finest butchers and it seemed to be working out well. We also found a wonderful chain-saw artist in Cardiff, and an amazing ice sculptress in St. Ives. However, due to some annoying legal complications, we ended up going with first-year medical-school students. They’re technically still amateur surgeons, but have just enough medical training to satisfy our legal team.

Q: How will the show work?

A: Let me use our first episode as an example. In this episode, our eight amateur surgeons each selected a family member or a mate and performed a rhinoplasty on them. You know, a nose job. Everyone, it seems, has a family member or friend with a hideous nose. It was all voluntary, of course. A professional anesthesiologist knocked out each of our patients and our amateur surgeons had at it. Off you go!

After our amateur surgeons completed their work, our judges – two of Britain’s finest professional surgeons, including a kind one and a mean one – evaluated each of the noses, and one amateur surgeon was eliminated. It was an emotional sendoff. We’re calling this episode, our first one: Noses Off!

Q: How are you going to top that on the second episode?

A: I can’t give away too much. But in Episode 2, our great amateur surgeons will each perform a hernia operation.

Q: A hernia operation? How did you ever find 11 people willing to have an amateur surgeon perform this type of complicated procedure on them?

A: You’d be surprised what people are willing to endure to be on the tellie, especially a show that has the words “Great” and “British” in the title. We were overwhelmed by the number of people with hernias who signed a waiver to be on The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge.We even had a few ambitious people attempt to lift rather heavy objects to induce a hernia. Some of the videos they sent us were hysterical. I can neither deny or confirm the rumors that a member of Parliament will be on this episode. But I can say one of the original Spice Girls will be in Episode 4, a special plastic-surgery-themed episode. It’s a real tear jerker. And a former Manchester United star will be on Episode 7: I Knee-d An Operation.

Q: What other operations will you have your amateur surgeons perform?

A: I don’t want to reveal too much, but each week the surgical procedure will become more complicated, culminating in, well, let’s just say the heart will be involved in the final episode.

Q: What happens if one of your patients dies? Aren’t you concerned about that?

A: Another excellent question. In the event that one of our patients doesn’t make it, we are legally authorized to utilize their remains for The Great British Amateur Embalming Competition. We have already filmed two episodes. Our amateur morticians are really quite marvelous and artistic, and I think this show has the potential be even bigger and more popular than The Great British Amateur Surgery Challenge.We’re also working on The Great British Organ Donor Contest. It’s rather amazing and inspiring how this has all worked out so well.


Please Don’t Flush This Post…

I just realized I haven’t written about our recent hike around the Isle of Wight (the one in England). Should I write about the incredible Coastal Path, the Tennyson Memorial, the wildflowers and the wild, rocky cliffs?

Nah, I’m gonna write about the toilets. Well, one particular toilet. A square one. That’s right, at two different places, I came across one of these…


A square toilet seat! What’s up with that? And how many millions of years will it take our butts and bodies to adapt and become square?

My friend Tania wondered if people’s butts are becoming more square “because we sit so much.” Sounds logical.

Phil asked if we were staying in Trafalgar Square. Ha, good one.

Turns out, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about toilets. Nor will it be the last. In the midst of my 2018 bike trip through Bordeaux, I came across an all-in-one toilet sink. I don’t know about you, but washing my hands that close to where countless people did you know what, is not very appealing. Or sanitary. Here, take a look…


All the way back on October 12, 2000, in my More Stuff column, I wrote the following…

The French pride themselves on their cheese and have something like 800 million registered brands. That’s nothing compared to all the different kinds of toilets they have, not to mention all the different ways there are to flush them. I think they do this to confuse and disorient weary travelers.

It works.

So, I’m at a cafe, the hub of social life in France, and a place people often enter just to use the facilities. I find the WC, enter and, it’s a squat toilet. No seat, just a large porcelain bin on the floor and two porcelain spots that are sort of shaped like feet and upon which you are supposed to put your feet. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

Then there’s this: A normal toilet, except no seat. When this happens, it takes me an extra few minutes to arrange my protective layer of toilet paper, which, in France, is usually pink, if there even is toilet paper. The goal is to arrange my protective layer in such a way that no part of me will touch anything other than pink toilet paper. And then, as I prepare to sit down, half the damn pink toilet paper usually falls to the disgusting floor, and I have to start all over.

And then there’s the challenge of flushing, which you wouldn’t think would be difficult. Let’s just say there are so many different things to push, pull, poke, prod and pound in frustration.

Then there was this…

I’m at a restaurant and head to the bathroom. And can’t find the light switch. Anywhere. It’s not on the wall outside the WC, it’s not on the wall inside. It’s nowhere to be found. It doesn’t seem to exist. And then … a bathroom brainstorm! I shut and lock the door, and, when I click the lock, voila, the light goes on.

This column seemed to strike a chord with a lot of readers, and I did a followup on October 22, 2000…

One reader, who didn’t give his/her name, wrote: “Please, the next time you feel the urge to disclose your bathroom techniques, simply lie down until the urge passes.”

Someone else wrote: “One of the most beautiful countries in the world and all you can write about is its toilets?”


Joanne Fulcoly wrote: “I could really relate. This summer, I went with my two daughters and their husbands and children to Paris. The restrooms are hard to describe! I was not thrilled with the unisex ones, and hated that pink toilet paper! We had the most trouble with the round, silver ones that took coins to get the doors to open. It was an enlightening experience to all.”

Dave Bayer wrote: “I guess you discovered why we are ahead of the Europeans intellectually, they don’t read as much as we do. With toilets like that, how can they?”

Anne Scheidell wrote to tell me “a professor from St. Joe’s wrote a book called Flushing Your Way Through Europe or something like that. I looked on amazon.com and couldn’t find this book, but did find The Porcelain God: A Social History of the Toilet, The Johns We’ve Known: Humorous Short Stories and Essays About Restrooms and Flushed With Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper.

Vicki Miller, 16, told me all about her bathroom adventure: “I went to Japan in 1998 with the 4-H Exchange Program (and) we decided to try and figure out the toilet. Since we’re Americans, we knew we could figure it out.

“The toilet had all these interesting knobs and gadgets on it and we wanted to know what they did. So we pushed the buttons and played with the knobs and nothing happened. We figured out the toilet was pressure activated, you need someone on the toilet for it to work. So, we had someone standing on the toilet seat and then pushed the buttons.

“Curiosity killed the cat, but in my case I just got soaked. A thing like a bidet came out and started spraying water EVERYWHERE! We all got soaked, the bathroom was all wet, and we didn’t know how to stop it. We were hitting all the buttons and nothing worked. It finally stopped when the person standing on the toilet seat lost their balance and fell into the bathtub.”

This summer, Vicki was in Peru and she said that the tip “Sure made me thankful for toilet seats.”

See, travel really is educational.


The Overly Familiar Check-Out Person Conundrum


“Have any plans for the weekend?”

No, this wasn’t a friend, neighbor, co-worker or even Mom asking this seemingly personal question. It was the check-out person at a local grocery store, where they seem to be required to ask every customer this question every Friday. On Mondays, do they always ask: “How was your weekend?” I’ll have to check on a Monday.

I was tempted, so very, very tempted to go into full Larry-David mode on the check-out person. I’ve been watching a lot of Curbs lately, and, sometimes, dammit, Larry makes a good point about social interactions and the rules that govern society. Like when Christian Slater ate way too much caviar or the guy took two parking spaces. Larry just takes it too far.

Here’s how Larry-David mode would have gone in my mind…

Check-out person: “Have any plans for the weekend?”

Me: “Yes.”

Check-out person: “Oh, what are they? Something fun?”

Me: “We don’t know each other, and that seems overly familiar and way too personal. I’m not comfortable detailing my weekend plans to you.”

Check-out person: “I was just being polite. I’m sorry sir, have a nice one.”

Me: “A nice one? What does that even mean. A nice what?”

In real life, here’s how it went…

Check-out person: “Have any plans for the weekend?”

Me: “No, not really.”

Check-out person: “Well, the weather’s supposed to be nice, maybe you can do something outside.”

Me: “Maybe.”

Perhaps it’s me. I grew up in Philadelphia, where the most interaction we have at check-out counters is a gentle nod and maybe a low-key “yo” if we’re feeling especially chatty and have known the check-out person for years and perhaps went to grade school with them. But here, in Columbus (Ohio), complete strangers and check-out people, people I’ve never met, seem eager to engage me in conversation. And they seem to really care what I plan to do this coming weekend. I think they’re rooting for me to have a fun weekend.

grocery cart with item
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

And then, yesterday, I was at a different supermarket, and the check-out person said this…

Check-out person: “What are you up to today?”

Huh? What am I up to today? That seems even more personal and intrusive than “Any plans for the weekend?”

And here’s the thing: I was up to something really cool. From the supermarket, I was headed to a nearby axe-throwing place, where I was gonna throw some axes with a local woman who’s one of the top axe throwers in central Ohio. For an article I’m writing for Columbus Monthly.

But come on … how much work would that have been to explain all this to the check-out person. A lot. Way too much. And then, answering all the axe-related, follow-up questions. It could have gone on forever. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

So, instead…

Me: “Just come chores.”

What do you think? How do you respond when the check-out person asks you for your weekend plans or daily itinerary? I’m curious. Perhaps I have it all wrong and my attitude is preventing me from meaningful social interactions that will expand my horizons, better connect me with my fellow human beings and lead to a happier, healthier and more-fulfilling  life. And maybe, just maybe, in the Age of Trump, this is more important than ever.

And don’t get me started on those people who leave their shopping carts in the middle of a space in the middle of the parking lot. What would Larry say to someone he saw doing this?