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    Esther Blumenfeld  

    The purpose of this web site is to entertain.  My humor columns died along with the magazines where they were printed, although I cannot claim responsibility for their demise.  I still have something to say, and if I can bring a laugh or two to your day, my mission will be fulfilled.

    Everyone I know thinks he has a sense of humor.  Here is my unsolicited advice. If you try to be funny and no one laughs, don’t worry about it.  However, if you try to be funny and no one EVER laughs, you might have a little problem.

     

    Friday
    Feb082019

    WORDS COME IN HANDY

    After sharing my misadventures on radio, television, on the lecture circuit and in the classroom, I thought it only fair to give you some insight about some of the magazine editors I had to survive. Working for a magazine editor is a whole other kettle of fish, and sometimes as pleasant as encountering the Red Tide in Florida.

    When I started out, I was so happy to be published and paid for my work, that I could overlook the eccentricities of many editors, and like P.G. Wodehouse, I’d “just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.” However, as I became more experienced and enjoyed having my name on the masthead of several magazines, I realized that editors often come and go as quickly as hair dressers, and with a bit of patience, I’d outlast them.  Also, it was an “Ah- Ha moment” when I realized that no magazine can go to print if writers don’t meet their deadlines. That is power! And, that is probably one reason I got so much work—consistency counts.

    The first article ever accepted by a major magazine was about gathering material for,  “Oh, Lord, I Sound Just Like Mama” (book written with Lynne Alpern). The magazine was Good Housekeeping. Big Time!  Big Check! and Big Disappointment when the editor called for a re-write because “The article is too funny for our readers.”

    Several years later, I submitted an article to another major magazine. It was rejected by their editors. However, when it was returned to me, the editors had inadvertently left their notes to each other in the envelope. One editor wrote, “Myrna, this is  a very funny, one page article.  I think we can get it for $500.00. What do you think?” And, Myrna replied, “You are right. It is hilarious, but do we need humor?”

    Okay, so now it was time to approach the notorious editor of Business Atlanta Magazine with an idea for a humor column.  He growled, “It will never work! Leave me the column you brought, but know that you have never worked for an editor as good as I am. Now get out!”
    He called that afternoon, and said, "I’ll put a contract in the mail today.” To his credit, he did give Lynne and me free rein to write on whatever subjects we wanted to write, and the monthly column became quite popular. Then, he resigned, and the new sweet-young-thing editor told us that she would give us topics to write about in our humor column. The first thing she said, was, “Write something funny about turtles.” As it so happens, turtle lovers don’t have much of a sense of humor, so before we had to write  the one about “ponies”, she was out, but we were still in for several more years, with several more editors, until technology won and the magazine shut down.

    Atlanta Magazine was another slick city magazine. However, the editor made the Business Atlanta editor look like a pussycat in comparison. He was a failed writer. To paraphrase H.G. Wells, “There is no passion in the world equal to the passion to alter someone else’s work”
    He had good writers, and I was happy to be associated with them and to be awarded a column. This editor wanted a “light touch” to bolster some of the stories in the magazine.

    One of my friends, the gifted writer, Tish Sweitzer (who has since written several books and plays) was assigned a story by this editor. She conducted 40 interviews for the article and submitted it to him.  He glanced at it and said, “This is not what I want! But, I don’t know what I want.” She sat in her car and screamed.  Tish had four small children, and her office was in a closet in their house. She was not given to screaming nor claustrophobia.

    When, this editor assigned a story to me about Buckhead, a very upscale area in Atlanta, he said, “ Give me a sidebar about a residential street.”  I said, “Which street?”  He said, “What?”  I said, “Tell me which street you want me to write about, so I won’t turn in the story and have you say,  ”Wrong Street!” He resigned and went to work for another magazine.  Not my fault!

    An editor for Lions Club Magazine offered lots of money for an article about humor in business, but for political reasons, he didn’t like one of the businesses we had included in the story.  There is an ethical line that journalists should never cross, and that was one of them. The rule is,” Be ethical and spell people’s names right!” So, I turned down the money, and submitted the story to Kiwanis Magazine. They took it, paid an even better fee, and it was reprinted in several  magazines around the Country.

    Through the years, my writings seemed to pop up everywhere—even in the National Enquirer, but that’s a story for another time.

     Now I’ll share with you the secret of becoming a writer. “Writing is easy. Just put a sheet in the typewriter and start bleeding.”  Thomas Wolfe 1900-1938)

    Esther Blumenfeld


    Friday
    Feb012019

    WALLEYED

    A student once said to his professor, “I have some new and good ideas.” After listening to him, the professor said, “Your new ideas aren’t good, and your good ideas aren’t new.”

    So, let’s consider walls.

    If you are looking for a really exciting vacation, go to Berlin. November 9, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the toppling of the Berlin Wall. Traces of the Wall still remain, and tourists from all over the world can buy tickets for, “The Berlin Wall Tour.”  There is also a “Cycle Route Tour”, and an “Art Tour,” where you can see remnants of the East Side Gallery of 100 artistic works. The most famous is, “The Fraternal Kiss,” depicting a kiss between the Russian leader, Leonid Brezhnev and the East German leader, Erich Honecker. This joyous celebration of the Wall does not include armed guards with shoot-to kill orders, so no tourist has to make a run for it.

    Another major walled attraction is Hadrian’s Wall, (Vallum Hadriani in Latin). Regarded as a British cultural icon—before they put heads on spikes at the Tower of London— Hadrian’s Wall is one of Britain’s major tourist attractions, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The largest Roman artifact anywhere, it runs 73 miles in Northern England, and was built to “separate the Romans from the barbarians (who are now Brits). Hadrian’s Wall was partly constructed to reflect the power of Rome as a political point by Hadrian. Hadrian and his Wall had to contend with guerrilla tribes from all over Europe and resistance from Scotland. Finally the Wall was defeated by dismal weather, rugged terrain and savage resistance, and Hadrian died of a heart attack.

    If wall tours appeal to you, you can book, “The Great Wall of China (2019) Top Tours and Activities,” “Great Wall Luxury Tours”, or “The Great Wall of China Walk.” It’s quite a long walk, but I guess it does not include the whole 3,100 miles. So far, it is the World’s longest wall.
    Badaling is the most visited section of the Wall (63,000,000 visitors in 2001) and in May and October visitor flow can be up to 70,000 per day.

    This Great Wall was built as a defense, but unfortunately couldn’t stop the vast Mongol Empire that invaded and consumed China, and later the Manchu forces that also breached the (by now, not so great) Wall.

    So with all of this wall history, what could President Trump do to persuade Congress to finance his wall?  The answer is so simple—-IT’S GOOD FOR TOURISM! If built, people from all over the world would come to the U.S. just to see the Trump Wall.  They could stay at the Border Trump Hotels and buy tickets for Trump tours.

    Also, I would recommend to the President that he quit saying that “Mexico will pay for the Wall.” Instead, he should say, “We will pay Mexicans to build that Wall.” It would be good for the economy of both countries. And, it is a fact that Mexicans know how to build, know how to dig and are very good with ladders.

    However, for some reason, only known to President Trump, he wants to encourage migrants from Norway to come to the U.S. However, if they would start coming in lots of boats, with their sardines and herring, I guess the President would need another six-billion-dollars for a floating Mar Wall—a very long floating Mar Wall. That idea should  buoy him up.

    Esther Blumenfeld

    Friday
    Jan252019

    ADVENTURES IN THE CLASSROOM

    For 8 years, my co-author, Lynne and I were hired to teach classes in The Continuing Education Department at  Emory University. This only supported the old adage, “Write a book and you are an expert.”

    Based on our books, THE SMILE CONNECTION and HUMOR AT WORK, we alternated between two classes, “Adding Humor to Your Life: The Salt-Free, Low-Calorie, Polyunsaturated, All-Natural Guide for Feeling Good”, and” “Writing Humor: But Seriously Folks!” The writing class taught people that it’s not so easy to write funny, and we discouraged as much of the competition as we could.

    When our third book, MAMA’S COOKING: CELEBRITIES REMEMBER MAMA’S BEST RECIPE, gained some success, the Director of Continuing Education asked if we could now add, “Writing a Cookbook for Fun and Profit” to the mix. Cooking has never been one of my favorite activities, but I learned a great deal about writing a cookbook, and was happy to pass this knowledge along to my students, although I also learned some useful tricks from them.

    A young man in the class told me that he thought that my cookbook class would attract, “some really interesting women who liked to cook,” and he figured that it was cheaper to pay for the course than to take several of them out for dinner. It seemed to have worked, because after the second class, he, and a very pretty woman student, never showed up again.

    However, the class was very popular and ended up with a waiting list. I discovered that all kinds of people want to write cookbooks for various reasons. Organizations want to raise money with club member recipes, chefs want to sell cookbooks at their restaurants, and some collectors of old family recipes want to share recipes handed down through the ages.  I had to caution them that a “fistful of flour” depends on the size of a baker’s hand.

    Some students had unrealistic expectations.  You can’t put a book together in November and expect it to be ready by Christmas. So, here are few questions I had them ponder on the first day:

     How many Mac and Cheese recipes do you want in your club cookbook? And how do you pick the best one without ending up with half of your membership not speaking to you—ever again!
    If you volunteer for the local Zoo, are you sure a cookbook is the best way for you to raise money?
    Do you know the difference between “4 servings” and “Serves four,”—especially if your guests are teenagers on a football team.
    Be sure to know the difference between 1 tsp and 1 tbsp. After all, cooking  also involves a bit of science and math. If it’s wrong in the book, forget the profit part.

    And, students had to recognize that selling a cookbook involves, as Mama, from the musical GYPSY, would say,  “You’ve got to have a gimmick!” Cookbooks have long shelf lives, because most of them are purchased by collectors. Many of these people don’t cook—they read—and they like to have cook book collections in their kitchens.

    Some authors have wonderful gimmicks, and their cookbooks are very successful. One of my favorites was MANIFOLD DESTINY, by Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller. It was a book with recipes for cooking meals on your car engine.  Internal combustion took on a whole new meaning for me.

    The gimmick that went wrong was the best seller, WHITE TRASH COOKING, published in 1986, by Ernest M. Mickler. Mickler didn’t get into trouble because of his recipes, but because of the photo of an unattractive woman on the cover of his book. Unfortunately, Mickler didn’t get her permission, in writing, to use the photo, and when the book was a huge success, the Ledbetter family of Alabama, shared all of the profits from his book with their attorney.

    Also, I found it of greatest importance to warn my students not to poison their readers.

    In 1992 Ballantine had to recall  GREAT CAKES by Carole Walter, because on pg. 499,  she had created a cake frosting decorated with lilies-of-the-valley, a poisonous flower. I understand that   both the American Medical Association and the NY Botanical Garden agreed that it looked great, but wouldn’t  recommend it for their cafeterias.  Ballantine suggested that people who had purchased the book cross out the recipe on pg. 499 or return the book for a refund.

    Of course, a poisoned cake might have its advantages, but only to Stephen King.

    In 2018, TALES FROM A FORAGER’S KITCHEN” by Johanna Holmgren was also recalled by Rodale Books for its recipe for “Chocolate Dipped Fungi.”

    Only one of my students found a real publisher for her cookbook.  It was on book shelves for about 10 minutes, but I was gratified to have been acknowledged as one of the people who had led her to her success.  I only wish she hadn’t misspelled my name.

    Esther Blumenfeld

    Friday
    Jan182019

    TALK ISN'T ALWAYS CHEAP

    From the e-mails I received, I know that many of you enjoyed the stories of my mishaps on radio and television. So, I will continue to share some of the weird encounters I had promoting my books, but this time, in front of live audiences—-while on the speakers circuit.

    Sometimes my co-author, Lynne and I were hired as a team, and sometimes I was on my own. Usually, we were keynote speakers at large banquets. That is the reason I detest meetings. I don’t just detest them—-I hate them! As a keynote speaker, it often meant sitting through minutes of the last meeting, and suffering through award presentations given to people I did not know. And, the worst part was that I had to look interested, because I was sitting on a dais facing an audience.

    The meeting that is forever burned into my memory was when a woman was presented an award for being the employee of the year. Lynne and I were facing the audience, as she sauntered behind us on her way to the microphone. Unfortunately, she suffered from extreme flatulence, and as she marched in slow time behind us, she provided her own drum roll all the way to the mic.

    We didn’t dare laugh, and of course the audience had no idea of what was going on. After her emotional acceptance speech, she once again passed behind us, and passed, and passed, and passed. Luckily, we had given the Master of Ceremonies  a funny introduction to our speech, so we could finally burst out laughing. We had learned from Ann Landers, “Always give the person introducing you a written introduction, so they won’t drone on and on.”

    Then there was a convention meeting held in Tampa, Florida. We arrived, after a prolonged cocktail hour, and everything we said (including “Hello”) was hilarious. We noticed that the hotel banquet room was darker than usual, so we couldn’t see the audience, since the lights were in our eyes, but luckily, we were up on a stage where the they couldn’t get to us.  After all a crowd can get hostile if they stop laughing.

    Things went swimmingly well—too well.  I noticed that my feet were wet. I looked down and saw that Lynne and I were standing in a puddle of water which was coming from behind the stage. Either someone had left a toilet running or a pipe broke.  I whispered to her, “Don’t touch the mic!” The pay was good, but not good enough to get electrocuted.  Finally, the water stopped running, and, just as we were coming to the end of our talk, a janitor came on stage with a bucket.  I said, “Guess, it’s time to mop this up.” The audience thought it was part of the act and we got a standing ovation.

    I could tell you about the time that the house was full, and a busload of senior citizens were seated in the wings. They really enjoyed our talk.  As a matter of fact, a man laughed so hard that his teeth blew onto the stage.  He got up, walked onto the stage, popped his teeth back into his mouth and took a bow.

    And then there was the time that our publicist booked us into a club to do a stand-up routine to promote our book, “In-laws , Outlaws and Other Theories of Relativity.” The comic who owned the club introduced us by turning his back to the audience and dropping his pants.
    That’s one way to crack up an audience.

    We bombed, but I survived to tell you the tale. Yes—-there are more—-perhaps for another day.

    Esther Blumenfeld

    Friday
    Jan112019

    NOW YOU SEE IT--NOW YOU DON'T

    After reading about my radio interview misadventures, some of you e-mailed me, “Did the same things happen on TV?”  All I can say is that, “It’s more difficult to hide the boo-boos on television than on radio.”

    My co-author, Lynne and I were invited to be interviewed on a television news show in Atlanta. It was our first television gig, and we were nervous. The show producer had provided questions to the publicity person at our publishing house, so we felt prepared.

    I was seated next to the interviewer, the camera lit up, She put her highly made-up face next to mine and said, “Is doing humor anything like doing drugs?” I kept my composure, turned to my co-author and said, “Lynne, would you like to answer that?” To this day, I don’t know what she said.

    When we wrote our celebrity cookbook, MAMA’S COOKING, we were scheduled onto a television news show in Tampa, FL. We were supposed to cook a dish in a few minutes on the air. So flying from Atlanta to Tampa we had to pack a pan, utensils, and all of the ingredients for the dish. Oh, Yes, This was before 9/11.

    The studio had a working stove, but no refrigeration, no sink, no water, and nowhere to put garbage. On the program we quickly chopped, stirred and cooked. When the show was over, the camera men ate the food. So, we had to get the Hell out of there—fast—before they died!
    But, there was no place to dispose of the grease in the pan. I spotted a hole in the floor and dumped the grease on the big cables down there. Then, we ran!

    CNN’s World Headquarters are in Atlanta, so being scheduled on a call-in television talk show at 3:00 a.m. is not unusual. It was dark outside, but when our car dropped us at the studio, it was amazing—-so much light and so much activity in the middle of the night. But then, it’s not the middle of the night in other cities around the world. We were placed on chairs in a studio with a monitor in front of us. The two interviewers were somewhere else, but we could see them on the screen, and for the audience, it looked as if we were in the same room.The subject was humor, and the calls kept coming.  All went well until a man called in and growled, “My wife doesn’t have a sense of humor!” I said, “How long have you been married?” He said, “Forty years!” I said, “Believe me, Your wife has a sense of humor.”

    My favorite late night TV interview (can’t remember the city) was a show that featured several guests. I was seated in the “Green Room” waiting for my turn to be interviewed. There was a TV monitor in the room, so those waiting could see what was happening in the studio. I remember there was a man doing bird calls. The other “acts” in the room looked much more interesting to me.

    There was a man who had 8 cats in a cage. He was going to demonstrate a video for cats that he had invented. He claimed it was a calming influence, and that his cats loved it. The other “guests” in the room were a hypnotist and her husband. He was her subject. I said, “Are you sure that you can hypnotize him on television?” She said, “I can hypnotize him anywhere,” and she did!—-right before it was announced that they would be next on the air. At that, she snapped her fingers, and snapped her fingers, and snapped her fingers, but he wouldn’t wake up (or whatever you call it) so she and her Zombie husband had to go on air the way they were.
    Much of the interview involved, “This has never happened to me before,” and lots of finger snapping.

    Next came the guy with cats in the cage. The cat man had given his video to the engineer, so it came onto the screen.  He opened the cage and, happy to escape, the cats ran all over the studio.  It was lots of fun watching the cat daddy, the host, and a the stage crew trying to herd those cats. None of us paid attention to the video. By the time, I came on, to talk about my latest book, the host was close to catatonic. He said, “So tell me about humor.” I said, “You must be kidding!” as a cat ran across my foot.

    When my husband, Warren, and I, went trips, our publicists would schedule both of us for interviews. In Las Vegas, we went on a show, where the interviewer was beautiful—probably a former showgirl. She had the deepest cleavage of any interviewer I had ever seen…even compared to the guys with open shirts and gold chains. And, her fingers sported the longest red talons I had ever seen anywhere. She could have been on the endangered species list. Talking with her hands, and getting to the heart of a matter, takes on a whole different meaning when she swung those nails in my direction.

    Finally, she slapped Warren’s book, JUMBO SHRIMP,  to her enhanced bosoms, and said, “Give me an oxymoron.”With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “Well, I can give you a firm maybe.”

    And that’s as good as it gets!

    Esther Blumenfeld