Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2012
Will Somebody Please Remove the Ferret from my Toe?
By Dave Fox
Every two years, the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop honors the memory of one of America’s most iconic humorists in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Since 2004, when organizers made a huge mistake and gave me a book award, I have never missed the event.
Moving from Seattle to Singapore eight months ago made attending this year’s conference tricky, however. The only way I could afford to go was to dupe the organizers into hiring me as a speaker. They fell for it, but unfortunately, they did not have funds to transport me in business class and told me I would have to make due with cheaper arrangements.
Flying from Singapore to Dayton in the baggage compartment’s pet section wasn’t bad, though by the time I booked my flight, the only remaining cages were middle cages. I found myself sandwiched between a Saint Bernard and a Labradoodle, both of whose fur kept infringing on my elbow room. Also, the ferret in the row behind me did not like airline food and kept trying to eat my passport.
When I landed in Dayton, I was sad to discover the workshop’s name badges were not as swank as they used to be. They used to have had color-coded stripes across the bottom: blue for mere mortals, red for extremely important speaker types, which I now was. Instead of a nicely printed stripe, I got a round, red sticker next to my name. Compared to the old badges, it felt a little like receiving cubic zirconium, but whatever. I was still going to flaunt it. So at dinner the first night, I strutted into the dining room with my sticker proudly displayed.
“What does the red dot on your name badge mean?” the woman next to me asked as I sat down to eat.
“Oh,” I said, trying to act nonchalant, “I think it’s special coding for presenters. I’ll be giving a talk on how to write travel humor.”
“That’s very interesting,” she said. Then she turned to another lady at our table with a red dot, and asked what she would be speaking on.
“I’m not a presenter,” the second woman said. “It means we’re lactose intolerant.”
It turned out organizers had color coded the name badges of people with dietary restrictions to warn our servers we were the difficult ones. A red dot denoted a food allergy. Green was for vegetarians. Vegans got two green stickers. Purple was for cannibals. If someone had both purple and green, it meant they were a cannibal who only ate vegetarians.
Another uncomfortable moment happened when, during my presentation, Andy Bombeck raised his hand to ask a question. And I was all like, “Holy crap! Erma Bombeck’s son is about to ask me for humor writing advice! Quick, think of something witty about septic tanks!”
Andy wanted to know if he could get sued for publishing strange pictures of strange people he encountered while traveling. Sensing this was more than just a hypothetical situation, I grilled him for details, but he just shifted nervously and kept saying, “Never mind, never mind.”
Well, you can imagine what was going through my head at this point. Clearly, Andy had snuck an embarrassing snapshot of me as I was crawling off the Dayton Airport baggage belt with a ferret still nibbling on my toe. So I told Andy if he put that photograph on Facebook, I would sue him for everything he had, including his mother’s book royalties, which are slightly more than my book royalties.
After my presentation, Andy’s sister, Betsy, approached me to smooth things over and calm me down. She said Andy had actually been referring to old family vacation photos and was worried his siblings might sue him. Just to be safe though, the next day at lunch, I introduced Andy to a table full of ladies with purple stickers on their name tags. I then slithered away to eat with a gluten intolerant humor writer on the other side of the room.