GOING COMPOST

Uncanned Laughter – A misused word, a misremembered song lyric, a cream pie that just happened to be there: tell us about a time you (or someone else) said or did something unintentionally funny.


Once upon a time, my father had a business partner who liked making cabbage soup. Bob (not his real name) and my father would go into the kitchen and produce gallons of soup and laugh a lot. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

Bob was an enthusiastic story-teller, mostly about his own misadventures. This was my favorite.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting. He always talked very loud and with a slight Russian accent. “Very sunny day. Blue sky. A good day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. She asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. She didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

75-BeachAtConeyIsland-707

We all nodded dutifully.

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.

“I opened the umbrella. Had to find the right place to put it because, you know, because if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit, then took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could. Seemed good and solid.

“With everything looking okay and mom settling down with a book, I thought it was a good time to get something to eat. I told her I would go get us some hot dogs and something to drink.

She said “Good, tell them to leave the mustard off.” She’s always reminding me but I know she doesn’t like mustard.

“I walked all the to Nathan’s. Long walk, to the end of the boardwalk. Worth it. They have the best hot dogs.” Definitely worth it. Nathan’s does have the best hot dogs, “And fries. I got five, two for her — no mustard. Three for me. I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his big belly, “I started walking back. I could see where to go ’cause I could see our umbrella.”

Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather began to change. Big clouds coming from the ocean. Getting windy too. Funny how fast weather changes at the beach, you know? I’m almost there when up comes a big gust of wind. The umbrella pulls right out of the sand and flies at me. Whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my head was gonna come off.

“I dropped the food and fell over. Like a rock. I just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Compost!”

I’ve been laughing ever since, but luckily have never gone compost.

(NOTE: He meant “comatose.”)

FEAR OF FLYING (UMBRELLAS)

75-BroadBoardwalkHP-1

Once upon a time, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house and make gallons of cabbage soup.

He must have thought there were a lot more kids than there were because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a 24 cubit food standing deep freeze in the basement as well as a huge fridge in the kitchen.

Bob and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup and laugh a lot. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

Bob (or whatever his name was because actually, I’ve forgotten) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

75-BeachAtConeyIsland-707

We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to be polite, no matter what, to grown-ups. We did not call adults by their first name. I think my teeth would have cracked if I had tried or my tongue would have stuck to the roof of my mouth.

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

“I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — pretty long walk, all the way at the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with enthusiasm because Nathan’s does have the best hot dogs, “And fries. I got five, two for her — no mustard — and three for me. I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his substantial belly, “I started walking back. I could see where to go — I could see our striped umbrella all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather began to change.  Suddenly. Big clouds coming from the ocean. And getting windy. This was all happening fast while I was out getting the dogs. Funny how weather changes so fast at the beach, you know? So now, I’m almost there when up comes a big puff of wind. That umbrella pulls right out of the sand and flies at me. Whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my head was gonna come off.

“I dropped the food and fell over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Compost!”

Be careful of flying umbrellas. They can turn you into compost, especially when your hands are full of hot dogs.

VALOR AND SURVIVAL

It was a rerun of an NCIS episode from a few years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others and her country’s secrets.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”


My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much. We communicate a fair bit on the Internet but hardly ever in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic.

Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all that and lead a pleasantly uneventful life. For excitement, there’s the Cyclone. I could have lived with that.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship alive but I hardly deserve a medal. You don’t get medals for surviving or you shouldn’t. Saving ones own life (and occasionally as collateral anti-damage, other people too) is instinct, not valor.

Staying alive is hard-wired into our DNA. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You have to make a willing choice. There has to be a choice! Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death isn’t courage.

If it’s fun, it’s entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my back not been so bad. A personal passion or hobby involving doing dangerous stuff is not brave. Maybe it’s not even intelligent.

Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, not brave.

Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table? That’s instinct.

I’ve never done anything I define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. Some of these adventures proved disastrous. Others worked out okay. I’ve occasionally been selfless in helping others when I could. But I never voluntarily put myself in harm’s way to save someone else.

The most I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t easy. I don’t think you get medals for that, either.

Anyway, that’s what I think.

BEWARE OF FLYING UMBRELLAS

75-BroadBoardwalkHP-1

Once upon a time, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were, because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen.

He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup and laugh a lot. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

75-BeachAtConeyIsland-707

We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to be polite, no matter what, to grown-ups. We did not call adults by their first name. I think my teeth would have cracked if I had tried or my tongue would have stuck to the roof of my mouth.

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

“I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — pretty long walk, all the way at the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with enthusiasm because Nathan’s does have the best hot dogs, “And fries. I got five, two for her — no mustard — and three for me. I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his substantial belly, “I started walking back. I could see where to go — I could see our striped umbrella all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly began to change.  Suddenly. Big clouds coming in from the ocean. And getting windy. This was all happening fast while I was out getting the dogs. Funny how weather changes so fast at the beach, you know? So now, I’m almost there when up comes a big puff of wind. That umbrella pulls right out of the sand and flies at me. Whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my head was gonna come off.

“I dropped the food and fell over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Compost!”

Be careful of flying umbrellas at the beach. They will turn you into compost. That’s not good, especially when your hands are full of hot dogs.

For the Weekly Writing Challenge: Object – A character sketch and some funny memories.

Daily Prompt: FRIGHT WITH SCREAMING AND HOTDOGS

75-Cyclone-NK-066

I don’t like horror movies, except the old ones which are more funny than scary. I thought Jurassic Park and Jaws were scary enough. Life is plenty full of thrills and chills without seeking out more. But then, there are roller coasters. Especially our hometown favorite — the Cyclone at Coney Island.

CYCLONE-a

FOR THE PROMPTLESS – LAPSUS LINGUAE AND BIG MISTER MALAPROP

Once upon a time when me and the whole world were a good deal younger, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house, visit, and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen. He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

75-BroadBoardwalkHP-1

Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

75-BeachAtConeyIsland-707

We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to be polite, no matter what, to grown-ups. We did not call adults by their first name. I think my teeth would have cracked if I had tried or my tongue would have stuck to the roof of my mouth.

DemocracySM

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — that’s a pretty long walk, all the way to the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with real enthusiasm because Nathan’s really does have the best hot dogs, “And I love those beef fries. I got five, two for her — with no mustard — and the other three for me because I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his large belly, “And I started walking back. I could see where to go because of the umbrella’s stripes. I could see it all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly was changing … some clouds were coming in from the ocean. It was getting a windy — a bit — and this was happening all of a sudden while I had gone to get the dogs. Funny how the weather changes so fast along the water, you know? So now, I’m almost there. Up comes  a big puff of wind and that umbrella pulls right up out of the sand and flies at me and whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my whole head was going to come off.

I dropped all the food and fell right over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Completely compost!”

Be careful of flying umbrellas at the beach. They will turn you into compost. That’s not good, especially when your hands are full of hotdogs.

Getting hits for being relevant

If you’ve ever worked as a reporter — or any kind of researcher — the instinct to follow a story persists. Sometimes, it pays off. For me, the turning point of this blog was when I got thousands of hits on a reblog about hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

November 2012 was something of a super month for bloggers. Between the presidential election and Hurricane Sandy, activity on the Internet was much greater than usual. Even people who were normally not especially interested were hopping online to follow current stories.

The thing was, the article that started bringing in all those hits was a reblog, or more accurately, a scoop. Anyone could have as easily read the same article on its original site. I was not at the top of a Google search. I tried using the phrase everyone else was using and Serendipity didn’t come up. At all. So people were seeking me out. Rather than reading the original article, they came to my site. Even giving me a point or two for attractive presentation, there were more than enough stories on the same subject all over the Internet. I’m not being modest. I wanted to know: why me?

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

I decided to analyze what I did better or differently than others. I looked at the total content for days when my numbers were very high. I realized all involved current events that were unusually high-profile. My best days involved Hurricane Sandy (November 2012), the blizzard Nemo (February 2013) and the days leading up to and immediately following the storms. Also the beginning of the new television season, the Oscars (before, after and during) and (of course) the election. And sadly, the bombing at the Boston Marathon (April 2013). Plus every time they play the première episode of Criminal Minds.

When major events occur, I write about them. Not one story, but a series of posts. I start with an article that covers the main story, then add to it. If the initial story was reblogged — often the case — I add graphics and photographs. I add commentary and analysis. My additions are typically longer and more detailed than the original. I don’t alter the original author’s text and I always give credit, but I build on it.

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

In this case, the original post was a reblogged (using ScoopIt) standalone post. Using it as a jumping off point, I followed a trail. I gathered pictures, stories about hurricanes and other storms. I wrote about them from my perspective, if I remembered them. Then, I asked Garry — my personal treasure trove of first-hand experiences — to talk about his experiences during the Blizzard of 1978 and other storms.

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1988

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1888

I roamed the web to see what was happening in various places being hit by the storm. Although I focused on Sandy and it’s impact on Coney Island, I discovered many other places along the coast which were equally affected. I posted what news I could gather about these areas.

I kept gathering and adding information, especially photographs, historical background and apocryphal stories. I just did what I always do when something interests me. I get into “bloodhound mode” and I followed the scent. The circles kept getting wider and including more locations, more events.

I eventually included stories not directly related to Sandy but which were thematically related. Other monster storms have paralyzed the Atlantic coast, some relatively recently. I love history so it was fun digging up historical information. Research can keep me glued to the computer for very long stretches. It’s how I learn.

I googled “hurricanes past 100 years East Coast” and could have filled an encyclopedia with the results. Research became stories. I hunted down historical photographs. I remembered stories I heard from relatives and friends about storms. My husband covered every storm to hit New England for more than 30 years, so he is a nearly bottomless repository of great first person experience.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

I ultimately produced a series of stories over almost a week.  News, mood  and background stories, data, photographs. I stitched them together. Each post was separate, but they formed a continuity. One thing led to another. When I thought about this storm, I remembered other storms, wrote about the storm that hit on my birthday in 1888 … and I offered facts, stories, and historical background, sidebars, and photographs.

The combination worked. Folks came to read one story and stayed to read many more. Some of them signed on as followers. It turned out that I didn’t have such a huge volume of visitors, but everyone who did visit stayed and read as many as five or six stories. A lot of hits.

Since then, I have more visitors on a regular basis and most of them read at least two or more stories. It’s not complicated:

  1. Be current. Don’t ignore major events. You don’t even have to write the stories yourself. Which brings me to the next point.
  2. If you don’t like WordPress’s reblog format, try ScoopIt. It seems a waste of time to write an essentially identical story when someone else has already done a great job writing it. Being relevant doesn’t mean you have to write it, but at least include it by reference.
  3. When something signficant or interesting is going on in our world whether it’s a national election, a hurricane, tsunami, the new television season or the upcoming Oscars, pay attention. You don’t have to write about just that subject, but maybe you shouldn’t completely ignore it either.
  4. It’s fine to march to the beat of your own drum, but it’s good to also pay attention to what the rest of the band is playing. If you march alone most of the time, occasionally it’s not a bad idea to join the chorus … or sing counterpoint.
  5. If you can’t be relevant because there are no big stories, be entertaining. Use those lemons to make delicious lemonade.
  6. Include lots of photographs.

Ivory towers can lonely. If you want company, you need to associate with the rest of the world and pay at least some attention to what interests them. If you write entirely for yourself, it’s a diary, not a blog.